Laser weapons today and tomorrow

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Laser weapons today and tomorrow
Laser weapons today and tomorrow

A laser installation, in a split second, overtaking a target at a distance of hundreds of kilometers, is awe-inspiring. Now such a weapon is only making the first uncertain steps into the big world. And yet it does.

Laser weapon

Not a toy anymore, not yet a weapon

The term "laser", which is familiar to us, is an abbreviation for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, which means "amplification of light by stimulated emission."

For the first time, the laser was seriously discussed in the second half of the 20th century. The first working laser device was presented by the American physicist Theodore Mayman in 1960, and today lasers are used in various fields. Quite a long time ago, they found application in military technology, although until recently it was mainly about non-lethal weapons that could temporarily blind the enemy or disable his optics. Full-fledged combat laser systems capable of destroying equipment while they are at the development stage, and when exactly they will go into operation, it is still difficult to say.

The main problems are associated with the high cost and high energy consumption of laser systems, as well as their ability to inflict real damage on highly protected equipment. Nevertheless, every year the leading countries of the world are increasingly developing combat lasers, gradually increasing the power of their prototypes. The development of laser weapons would be more correctly called an investment in the future, when new technologies will make it possible to seriously talk about the feasibility of such systems.

Winged laser

One of the most sensational projects of laser combat systems was the experimental Boeing YAL-1. A modified Boeing 747-400F airliner served as a platform for placing the combat laser.


The Americans have always looked for ways to protect their territory from enemy missiles, and the YAL-1 project was created precisely for this purpose. It is based on a 1 MW chemical oxygen laser. The main advantage of the YAL-1 over other means of missile defense is that the laser complex is theoretically capable of destroying missiles at the initial stage of flight. The American military has more than once announced the successful tests of the laser installation. Nevertheless, the real effectiveness of such a complex seems rather dubious, and the program, which cost $ 5 billion, was curtailed in 2011. However, the developments obtained in it have found application in other projects of combat lasers.

Boeing YAL-1 is an analogue of the Soviet aviation laser system A-60. The base for the A-60 laser complex was the Il-76MD, and its first flight took place in 1981. It was expected that the main task of the complex would be the fight against enemy reconnaissance aircraft. After the collapse of the USSR, work on the A-60 was frozen, but has now been resumed.

Moses Shield and Uncle Sam's Blade

Israel and the United States are world leaders in the development of laser combat systems. In the case of Israel, the creation of such systems is due to the need to resist frequent rocket attacks on the territory of the country. In fact, if the laser will not be able to confidently hit targets such as a ballistic missile, then it is quite capable of fighting short-range missiles already now.

Palestinian unguided Qassam rockets are a constant headache for Israelis, and the US-Israeli Nautilus laser missile defense system was to become an additional security guarantee. The main role in the development of the laser itself was played by specialists from the American company Northrop Grumman. And although the Israelis invested more than $ 400 million in Nautilus, in 2001 they withdrew from the project.Officially, the results of the missile defense tests were positive, but the Israeli military leadership reacted to them with skepticism, and as a result, the Americans were the only participants in the project. The development of the complex was continued, but it never came to mass production. But the experience gained during the Nautilus testing was used to develop the Skyguard laser complex.

The Skyguard and Nautilus missile defense systems are built around a high-energy tactical laser - THEL (Tactical High Energy Laser). According to the developers, THEL is capable of effectively hitting rockets, cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles and drones. At the same time, THEL can become not only an effective, but also a very economical missile defense system: one shot will cost only about 3 thousand dollars, much cheaper than launching a modern anti-missile missile. On the other hand, it will be possible to talk about the real efficiency of such systems only after they are put into service.


THEL is a chemical laser with a power of about 1 MW. After detecting a target by the radar, the computer orientates the laser installation and fires a shot. In a split second, a laser beam makes enemy missiles and projectiles detonate. Critics of the project predict that such a result can be achieved only in ideal weather conditions. Perhaps that is why the Israelis who previously left the Nautilus project were not interested in the Skyguard complex. But the US military is calling the laser a weapon revolution. According to the developers, mass production of the complex may begin very soon.

Laser at sea

The US Navy is showing great interest in laser missile defense systems. According to the plan, laser systems will be able to supplement the usual means of protection of warships, taking on the role of modern rapid-fire anti-aircraft guns, such as the Mark 15.

The development of such systems is fraught with a number of difficulties. Small drops of water in humid sea air noticeably weaken the energy of the laser beam, but the developers promise to solve this problem by increasing the laser power.

One of the latest developments in this area is MLD (Maritime Laser Demonstrator). The MLD laser installation is just a demonstrator, but in the future its concept may form the basis of full-fledged combat systems. The complex was developed by Northrop Grumman. Initially, the power of the installation was small and amounted to 15 kW, however, during the tests, it also managed to destroy a surface target - a rubber boat. Of course, in the future, Northrop Grumman experts intend to increase the laser power.

At the 2010 Farnborough Air Show, the American company Raytheon presented to the public its own concept of a combat laser LaWS (Laser Weapon System). This laser installation is combined into a single complex with the Mark 15 naval anti-aircraft gun and during tests managed to hit the drone at a distance of about 3 km. The LaWS laser power is 50 kW, which is enough to burn through a 40 mm steel plate.


In 2011, Boeing and BAE Systems began developing the TLS (Tactical Laser System) complex, in which the laser system is also combined with a rapid-fire 25mm artillery gun. It is believed that this system will be able to effectively engage cruise missiles, aircraft, helicopters and small surface targets at a distance of up to 3 km. The rate of fire of the Tactical Laser System should be about 180 pulses per minute.

Mobile laser complex

Another development of the Boeing company - HEL-MD (High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator) - should be installed on a mobile platform - an eight-wheeled truck. On tests that took place in 2013, the HEL-MD complex successfully hit training targets. Potential targets for such a laser installation can be not only drones, but also artillery shells. Soon, the capacity of HEL-MD will be increased to 50 kW, and in the foreseeable future it will be 100 kW.

Another example of a mobile laser was recently presented by the German company Rheinmetall. The HEL (High-Energy Laser) laser complex was installed on the Boxer armored personnel carrier. The complex is capable of detecting, tracking and destroying targets - both in the air and on the ground. Power is enough to destroy drones and short-range missiles.



A well-known expert in the field of advanced weapons, Andrei Shalygin, says:

- Laser weapons are literal line-of-sight weapons. The target must be detected in a straight line, aim the laser at it and steadily follow in order to have time to transfer the amount of energy sufficient to damage. Accordingly, over-the-horizon defeat is impossible, and stable, guaranteed defeat at long distances is also impossible. For long distances, the unit should be raised as high as possible. The defeat of maneuvering targets is difficult, the defeat of shielded targets is difficult … In numbers, all this looks too banal to talk about it seriously, even in comparison with the primitive operating air defense systems.

In addition, there are two factors that further complicate the situation. The power-to-weight ratio of the carrier of such weapons in today's conditions should be enormous. This makes the entire system either extremely cumbersome, or extremely expensive, or having a lot of other drawbacks such as a small total time spent on alert, a long time to alert, a huge cost of a shot, and so on.? The second significant factor limiting the effect of laser weapons, is the optical inhomogeneity of the medium. In a primitive sense, any ordinary bad weather with precipitation makes the use of such weapons below cloud level completely useless, and protection against it in the lower atmosphere seems to be very simple.

Therefore, it is not yet necessary to say that samples of any know-how in laser weapons in the foreseeable future can become something more than not the best melee weapon for ship groupings in good weather and for aviation duels passing above the cloud level. Typically, exotic weapons systems are one of the most effective ways lobbyists make "relatively honest" money. Therefore, in order to solve tactical tasks by combat units within the framework of military art, one can easily find a dozen or two much more effective, cheap and simple solutions to the assigned tasks.

Airborne systems being developed by the Americans can find very limited use for local defense against air attacks above cloud levels. However, the cost of such solutions significantly exceeds the existing systems without any prospects for its reduction, and the combat capabilities are significantly lower.

With the discovery of materials for the design of superconducting systems operating at temperatures close to the environment, as well as in the case of the creation of compact mobile high-energy power sources, laser installations will be produced in Russia. They can be useful for short-range air defense targets in the fleet and used on surface ships, for starters - as part of systems based on platforms such as ZK Palma or AK-130-176.

In the ground forces, such systems in a fully operational form have been known to the whole world since the days when Chubais tried to openly sell them abroad. They even exhibited for this purpose in the framework of MAKS-2003. For example, MLTK-50 is a conversion development in the interests of Gazprom, which was carried out by the Troitsk Institute for Innovative and Fusion Research (TRINITI) and the Efremov NIIEFA. Its appearance on the market, in fact, led to the fact that the whole world immediately suddenly moved forward in the design of similar systems.At the same time, at the present time, the power engineering of the systems makes it possible to have not a double, but an ordinary single car module.


It seems that laser systems are not weapons of tomorrow or even the day after tomorrow. Many critics believe that the development of laser systems is a waste of money and time at all, and large defense corporations are simply mastering new tools with the help of such projects. However, this point of view is only partially true. Perhaps the combat laser will not become a full-fledged weapon yet, but it would be premature to finally put an end to it.

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