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Copyright

Title: The E-Bomb
Author: Doug Beason
Publisher: Da Capo
Copyright: 2005
ISBN: 0306814021
Pages: 256
Price: $26.00
Rating: 85%

 

Active Denial. That's the code name for the world's first non-lethal directed energy weapon, currently being tested. It directs heat energy at insurgents carrying weapons, selectively targeting those who are dangerous, because of the metal objects (weapons) they hold, and causes no harm to others. It could protect the staff of a US embassy in a volatile third-world country; it could chase off villagers surrounding downed pilots in a war; or it could take out terrorists before they get a chance to act. Thatís the theory.

 

Active Denial. You have to appreciate the creativity of the newspeakers in the Department of Defense who came up with that name. "Directed energy is not science fiction," repeats author Doug Beason several times, as if to make sure the reader understands that these weapons are more than just Pentagon pork-barrel projects, as he outlines their technology, uses and possibilities.

 

Directed energy weapons are high-powered energy sources--lasers, microwaves or particle beams--that can be focused on insurgents or weapons. Traveling at the speed of light, directed energy makes evasive maneuvers impossible, and allows military forces to attack targets immediately: no time is required to transport troops, fly planes, or even launch missiles. Unlike explosives or projectiles, long the only type of weapon used in conflicts or war, this technology may lead to a "revolution in military affairs." As Beason points out in this book, "The size of the army matters, but technology wins wars," and this new technology may be so disruptive that no force can combat it.

 

But the mere thought of this is chilling. "National leaders will soon have the ability to instantly deter threats anywhere in the world with infinite precision at the speed of light."Should this be true, the new Army will depend much more on surveillance, and such interventions could become far too easy, limiting the possibility of free expression and assembly. Also, this type of weapon is fine if a benevolent government holds it, but, like other forms of military technology, proliferation is inevitable. What will happen when every major power has these weapons? Will they lead to an increase in hostility? Or will they, on the contrary, eliminate wars altogether?

 

But will directed energy weapons work? This book reads, at times, like a funding report for the technology. This is no surprise, since the author has been "a key architect and leading expert in directed energy research," and has also written "some popular fiction techno-thrillers" (all out of print). There is no lack of sensationalism, and the book is full of "gee-whiz" scenarios, showing how directed energy weapons can save lives. (Curiously, the author focuses more on saving American lives, rather than decimating enemy troops.)

 

We are all familiar with Reagan's famous "Star Wars" project, also known as the Strategic Defense Initiative. This project, which would have used lasers to take out missiles approaching the United States, never really worked, in spite of the huge amounts of money that were tossed liberally to defense contractors. Is directed energy another white elephant that will eat up defense budgets, which could be spent on people rather than weapons, or can it really make a difference?

 

I must give credit to Beason for outlining the reasons why directed energy may not work: it may be too costly, it may not live up to the hype, and the military might simply be hesitant to use a new technology that it doesn't understand. But Beason explains how these weapons may work, discusses the concepts behind the technology, and gives the reader enough information to grasp the how and why of directed energy. Flitting from chapters on the science of lasers and microwaves to discussions of weapons tests, and from fictional scenarios of how these weapons may work in the field to an overview of directed energy programs, this book is a well written handbook for this new technology.

 

Some of the science is complex, but Beason explains things simply and clearly--even readers with little knowledge of the basic science will have no trouble understanding the principals in play. The book is written at about the level of Scientific American, with diagrams, graphs and illustrations when necessary, and patient explanations of what may seem to be complex technology.

 

Curiously, the final chapter, "This is the End", gives an ideal overview of the book in merely four pages. In a way, this "executive summary" should have opened the book, giving readers a roadmap of the key issues and technology in a nutshell. Rather than a conclusion, it acts as an elevator pitch for directed energy weapons. If you read this book, start with the last chapter, then go to the beginning. And while you read, remember: this is not science fiction.

 

Kirk McElhearn  

 

Kirk McElhearn (kirk@mcelhearn.com) is a freelance writer and translator living in a village in the French Alps. You can find out all about him at his web site, http://www.mcelhearn.com.