Could the Star Trek technology of force fields become reality? The Air Force Research Laboratory argues that we've hit a tipping point with directed energy technologies. Credit: CBS/Paramount.

Chances are, you’ve probably watched the Star Trek science-fiction television series once or twice, along the way.

If so, you’re probably familiar with the Capt. of the USS Enterprise, saying that famous line: “Shields up!” … whenever threatened by an alien warship.

The latter has the ability to stop photon torpedoes, altho it weakens with each successive hit, raising the drama level on the bridge.

While the idea of a force field is still a science-fiction-inspired flight of fantasy, keep in mind, heavier-than-air flight was also considered by some mainstream scientists to be a crazy idea only a little more than a century ago.

Along those lines, researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base have released a new analysis of the Department of Defense’s investments into exactly that — only they’re calling it directed energy technologies, or DE.

The report, titled “Directed Energy Futures 2060,” makes predictions about what the state of DE weapons and applications will be 40 years from now and offers a range of scenarios, Brett Tingley at The War Zone reported.

The authors claim that the world has reached a “tipping point” in which directed energy is now critical to successful military operations.

One of the document’s most eyebrow-raising predictions is that a “force field” could be created by “a sufficiently large fleet or constellation of high-altitude DEW systems” that could provide a “missile defense umbrella.”

The Leonidas directed energy weapon stands ready to defend against swarms of drones all at once, the company says. The concept of creating a localized force field or ‘missile shield’ may just be on the horizon, scientists say. Credit: Leonidas.

It cites several existing examples of what it calls “force fields,” including the Active Denial System, or “pain ray,” as well as non-kinetic counter-drone systems, and potentially counter-missile systems, that use high-power microwaves to destroy targets, War Zone reported.

Most intriguingly, the press release claims that “the concept of a DE weapon creating a localized force field may be just on the horizon.”

In a press release accompanying the document, AFRL’s Directed Energy Deputy Chief Scientist Jeremy Murray-Krezan adds that current directed energy technology is “not quite Star Wars,” but adds that the AFRL is “getting close.”

“DE is uniquely suited for an area of growing importance, nondestructive but damaging, disruptive, and denial of operations,” Murray-Krezan said.

“Not every military operation has to result in a smoking hole in the ground for it to be successful.”

The document describes advances occurring both in the private sector and the Department of Defense that are driving the size and weight of DE systems down while increasing power, making the kinds of weapons dreamed about in science fiction seem more like reality.

The authors describe the concept in more detail:

The “holy grail” from a military utility perspective is a DE weapon system effective enough, favorable from a SWAP perspective, and affordable enough to provide a nuclear/missile umbrella. Although a concept often associated with science fiction, in fact ground and ship-based DE defense systems effectively act like point-localized force fields against small and relatively soft targets today. Airborne and space-based DE platforms could achieve a greater area defense and multipoint defenses, for a broader coverage missile umbrella.

The document defines directed energy as “a focused beam of electro-magnetic energy that is used to enable or create military effects, when used in conjunction with other military systems, including kinetic weapons.”

Several different types of DE systems are cited, including lasers, radio frequency devices, high power microwave, millimeter wave and particle beams, War Zone reported.

These can be used to create at least five different military effects: “deny, degrade, damage, destroy, or deceive.”

According to AirForce Technology, the demand for DEWs is surging globally with the value of DEWs having reached US$4.1 billion in 2020.

The US is leading in the development of DEWs globally with a market share of 41.6%, followed by China, France, Germany, and the UK.

The US doubled its military expenditure on DEWs from US$535 million in fiscal year 2017 (FY17) to $1.1 billion in FY19. The increase in investment in DEWs is expected to continue globally over the next decade.

“Demand for directed energy weapons and investments is surging to billions [of dollars] every year,” said Nurettin Sevi, an aerospace, defense and security analyst at GlobalData.

“Military forces are seeking to launch and deploy effective DE weapons at the earliest opportunity,” he told National Defense.

The weapons “have immense potential to be game-changers in the near future, as well as revolutionary in the long term.”

It should also be noted, that we have heard these grandiose claims before — namely, the so-called futuristic “Star Wars” weapons program proposed by President Reagan, which cost taxpayers more than US$30 billion over 10 years, and remained just that, futuristic.

Then there was the Airborne Laser (ABL) which was scrapped by the Obama administration after 16 years of development and a cost of more than US$5 billion.

As one ex-Pentagon type once said, if all the wasteful spending in Washington could be collected, an entirely new military could be funded.

If we have indeed already crossed the “tipping point” or if this is just optimistic daydreaming, the wars of the future could very well resemble what has previously been seen only in science fiction — if we last that long.

Sources: The War Zone, Wikipedia, AirForce Technology, National Defense