The global electronic warfare market is witnessing a change in perception with different stakeholders who are seeing electronic warfare (EW) as a core weapon technology rather than supporting technology. Numerous acts permit the use and development of electronic warfare systems and capabilities, while a number of legal regimes apply to directed energy weapons (DEW) such as the national civilian-use regulations and guidelines to international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights laws.  

Listed below are the key regulatory trends impacting the electronic warfare theme, as identified by GlobalData.

Law of Armed Conflict

According to the Law of Armed Conflict, “any act of aggression must be measured under these laws” and must be found to have “necessity and proportionality. An attack must be necessary for a military purpose, and the damage it causes must be worth the advantage that is gained”.

In complying with the Law of Armed Conflict, feasible options may raise difficult legal and ethical questions. Any military activity must conform to these laws as well as domestic and other international laws.

Specifically, attacks against a country’s financial, transportation, or communications systems must be shown to have clear military necessity to be legal. The widespread destruction of a nation’s communications infrastructure would possibly prove illegal.

Electronic Warfare Capabilities Enhancement Act of 2016

The Electronic Warfare Capabilities Enhancement Act of 2016 (US) permits the use of appropriations authorised for electromagnetic spectrum warfare systems and electronic warfare in order to develop and field electromagnetic spectrum warfare systems and electronic warfare capabilities.

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By GlobalData

DEW and collateral damage

Despite claims regarding the accuracy of DEW, questions remain around the ability to target certain DEW at a specific military objective, in compliance with the IHL rule of distinction and the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks. Potential effects such as burning, eye damage, or radiation sickness may raise concerns under the prohibition of causing superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.

Such non-kinetic mechanisms of harm have historically provided grounds for concern regarding the acceptability of weapons. It is also questionable whether the intentional and unintended harm occasioned by the use of a DEW can be properly assessed, which is a requirement for compliance within the rules on proportionality and precautions in attack.

DEW legislation and regulation

DEWs are not authoritatively defined under international law, nor are they currently on the agenda of any existing multilateral mechanism. Nevertheless, there are a number of legal regimes that would apply to DEW. These range from national civilian-use regulations and guidelines to IHL and human rights laws that could constrain or preclude their use in certain situations.

The prospect of DEW raises questions under several bodies of international law, most notably those that place restrictions on the use of force. Some DEWs are classified as ‘non-lethal’ or ‘less-lethal’ weapons, with proponents setting them apart from ‘lethal’ weapons.

Low-energy laser weapon systems are one of the most controversial topics in defence, as they may be used for anti-personnel purposes. Although not fatal, they may cause temporary or permanent blindness, and temporary loss of consciousness, balance, and sensation. The use of blinding weapons was banned in 1995 by the United Nations (UN). Due to these factors, various DEW systems developed for military application in warfare have not been put in service.

For instance, the Active Denial System (ADS) developed by Raytheon was introduced to the US Army in 2001. The system is capable of transmitting a 95 GHz energy beam which can penetrate to boil water under human skin, leading to intense burning sensation without resulting in any tissue damage. Although the US department of defence (DoD) shipped the ADS to Afghanistan, its deployment was stopped due to humanitarian laws and other factors.

This is an edited extract from the Electronic Warfare Market – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.