Years ago, Taiwan was reportedly advised not to develop nuclear weaponry. The advice may appear justified given the devices’ destructive power and possible, uncontrollable consequences. However, Taiwan should not also be prohibited from developing laser defense technologies, which would provide the country with precision targeting capabilities at minimal risk of collateral damage.
High-powered lasers are efficient cutting tools and are widely implemented in the automotive and other manufacturing industries. Extending the technology for use in national defense has long been expected, and the US military has already claimed to have knocked down a drone with a high-precision laser beam.
Lasers can be categorized into two groups: chemical and solid-state. Solid-state lasers are more transportable and are therefore preferred.
Solid-state devices are also desirable due to their use of electric power, which is much easier to generate and to store in highly mobile platforms containing a generator and batteries.
The technology to process portable electric power and drive large arrays of laser emitters already exists, as do precision optics that can collect, focus, and shape multiple-array beams into a high-power pencil beam. With advanced sensors, computer programs and guidance technology, high-power laser beams can be guided to lock on to a hostile object. The laser will then spot-heat the target, meaning that it can easily cut through the object’s thick metal casing. As a result, the hostile object will either cease functioning or self-destruct due to internal over-heating and possible resultant explosions.
Taiwan has the technical capabilities and financial resources to support the development of a high-powered, laser-based missile defense system.
Such a program would also be beneficial for civilian businesses, even if its military goal is denied or fails to come to fruition. Optical technology — for example the development and manufacture of digital cameras — is widely recognized as an economic engine with dual purposes: military and civilian. Developments made in one area find their way into the other, and resources spent in either will not be wasted.
Taiwan should seriously consider this option.
Kengchi Goah is a senior research fellow at the US-based Taiwan Public Policy Council.