A directed-energy weapon is a type of weapon that emits energy in a particular direction by a means other than a projectile. It transfers energy to a target for a desired effect. Some of these weapons are real or practicable; some are science fiction. The energy is in various forms:
* Electromagnetic radiation (typically lasers or masers).
* Particles with mass (particle beam weapons).
* Fictional weapons often use some sort of radiation or energetic particle that does not exist in the real world; or where the physical nature of the energy and its means of transmission is not detailed and the visible effects would be impossible in the real world.
Some of these weapons are known as death rays or rayguns and are usually portrayed as projecting energy at a person or object to kill or destroy.
Some lethal directed-energy weapons are under active research and development, but most examples appear in science fiction (or non-functional toys and film props).
A laser fires from space toward Earth in this artistic rendering. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate is conducting research in a wide variety of laser technologies for ground-, air- and space-based applications. Image Credit: AFRL