Secret Intelligence Service

Room No. 15

The Prospects of Laser and Beam Weapons


Almost every time when viewing films/movies containing ‘the future’, what is seen has become a familiar sight – the firing at each other from different laser and beam weapons. Is there any prospect in the development of these samples such weapons? What can be achieved in this area in terms of our technology? At what level are the development of various means of laser lesions, including air and missile defense system? And most importantly – who is the main legislators “fashion” weapons in the world – the United States, or the Russia Federation, now ahead? Theme was even greater resonance in connection with the recent rumors that Russia resumes active development of laser weapons.

Consider the fact that lasers have long been used in the armed forces of most countries, laser range finders, target designators, which are induced in the beam bombs, missiles, artillery shells, etc. But the old dream of military use of a laser to destroy targets in practice until recently was not implemented, although the development and testing has been carried out for more than a dozen years. The obvious advantages of laser weapons are almost absolute accuracy of lesions (with appropriate guidance systems) and the highest speed of the beam is equal to the speed of light (is achieved almost instantly).

One of the principal disadvantages is the very low efficiency of the laser in the atmosphere of the earth. For example, one of the most powerful, the Soviet prototype laser mounted on the ship “Foros”, had only 5% efficiency at a distance of some 4 km away. In terms of space and loss of energy dissipation is much less, but at large distances the problem is as relevant (for tasks such as missiles and warheads to defeat the enemy from a distance of 1000 km).

Consider the specific objectives that were set and put the developers of laser weapons, the current situation in these areas and future prospects.


 Strategic laser missile defense

The idea of creating a laser missile defense as a means of defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles comes to the fore immediately – but is it a feasible idea and what it prevents implementation?

The most famous laser missile defense project – Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, better known as the program “Star Wars”. As part of the IDF was considered placing satellites with weapons based on new physical principles, chief among which was just laser weaponry. The project was initially too ambitious – to launch a laser weapon of those times (and current), along with the energy source for its pump was impossible. In addition and inevitably to face the laws of physics that cannot be overcome – because of the very low efficiency of the laser is fired from the cannon powerful enough (over 5 MW) releases absolutely massive amounts of heat – at least 100 MW. The task of removal of the amount of heat in space was almost unsolvable. The second physical problem – to ensure a minimum dissipation beam, or laser spot. In order to achieve acceptable results, it is necessary to create a completely perfect mirror area of not less than 10 m. At the moment the record belongs to the orbital “Hubble” telescope with a mirror area of 2.4 m. It was made and polished for many years, assuming a manufacturing defect of only 2 microns. With a mirror, connected was another problem – while firing, some of the energy will affect the reflector itself – some would not be a high reflection coefficient. At such high energies the laser beam even fractions of a percent will be enough to bring the mirror into disrepair.

Finally – the imaginary enemy to defend their missiles and warheads. Technologies for creating materials to absorb huge amounts of heat for a long time are already created – landers with astronauts entering the atmosphere, experiencing load no less than would have received in laser irradiation power in the 5-10 MW from a distance. Covering warhead ICBMs with plenty of foil, which reflect most of the radiation is also not a problem. The USSR went in a slightly different direction – began to develop fighter station satellites “Pole”. The task was much easier for the US, as was needed a lower range to hit targets and significantly lower radiation power – it was enough just to spoil the optical sensors of enemy satellites, to turn them into simple space debris. Layout of such a station called “Skif-DM” was launched into space in 1987, but due to a failure in orbit, could not get out. After this development project has not received attention. Designed for the “pole” laser power of 1 MW was installed on the aircraft IL-76, won the title of such a modification of the A-60, but more on that forthwith.

From the foregoing, it can be concluded that the creation of an orbital laser defense system is not currently possible, and is unlikely to become so in the foreseeable future.


 X-ray lasers with nuclear pumping

The development of lasers operating in the X-ray frequency range (Raser) proved a daunting task. This was especially true of high-power lasers that could be used for military purposes. The only known way until receipt of the pumping laser beam began using a nuclear explosion. Explosion converts metal strings in the plasma filament which generate laser ray range. All it takes is microseconds, while the beam power obtained is gigantic. The development of such weapons was in the US, and in 1980, it was rumored to have been carried out. Beneath ground was blown nuclear charge capacity of 20 kilotons, and the beam was obtained with a duration of 1 nanosecond and directed-energy 130 kJ (as a machine gun from the queue). There is the same unreliable information regarding such trials in the USSR with similar results.

The US project named “Excalibur” probably was part of SDI. – Intended to defeat oncoming Soviet ICBMs warheads in space. But once again intervened physics. The required beam power was insufficient due to various unsolved problems that required the use of nuclear power charges – more than 1 Mm and strings longer than 20 meters. And even after that, there was one miscalculation – still need of a material capable of reflecting X-rays, so creating a mirror, focusing the beam, – is impossible. Because of this divergence beam Raser is too large, even at distances of 100 km in the ideal case, the energy will account for only 100 kJ per centimeter squared, that will not be sufficient to destroy a warhead having adequate protection. So, X-ray lasers also fell short of their expectations.


 Air-based lasers

Projects aircraft, equipped with a laser instrument developed and tested both in the USSR and the USA. Because of its huge size and weight in both cases the lasers were placed in heavy transport aircraft.

American aircraft Boeing YAL-1 first flew in 2002. On the machine was installed chemical laser power of 1 MW. It was planned that the aircraft would be able to destroy a missile launch from a distance of 300-400 km, with departures to knock off at least 20 rockets. But the laws of physics were back even stronger – despite the impressive advances in optics and other technologies, the laser beam was still losing too much energy, because of the dust particles in the air. A year before the close of the program, in 2010, was carried out a successful test – the plane was able to knock down ballistic missile launches. Gunshot then cooled down for about an hour, and then was hit by another missile. It would seem that the purpose was partially achieved, but the distance from which a shooting took place is unknown. The project also was closed in 2011 due to its massive cost (at that time already was spent in excess of $5 billion) and inefficiency – US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said at the time that is needed to achieve the required performance laser was one 20-30 times more powerful. In addition, there is one problem – the 300-400 km range is too small for the task of strategic missile defense, especially when it comes to countries with large areas, such as China or Russia.

In the Russian Federation was created the laser plane A-60 – a modification of transport aircraft IL-76. The power of its laser also is 1 MW, in recent years the work on the aircraft resumed. There is almost no reliable data on the tests or their results. There is information that the A-60 in 2009 could impose beam at the spacecraft to orbit at an altitude of 1500 km. Later it was reported that the project was developing and will set up a system to suppress the opto-electronic reconnaissance.


 Lasers defense / ground-based missile defense

This is too old an idea. Naturally the opportunity to bring down aircraft, cruise missiles, missile, etc. almost instantly cannot but fantasize in the notion.

In the Russian Federation has been created 2 laser defense projects – “Terra-3” and “Omega”. The first is a complex missile, designed to combat warheads in the terminal phase of flight and destruction of low-orbit satellites. The goal has not been achieved, for reasons that have already been discussed above. Academician Nikolai Basov in 1994 responded to a question about the results of the program as follows: “Well, we have firmly established that no one will be able to bring down the warhead BR laser beam, and we had a great advanced lasers …”. Laser Defense “Omega” has proved to be a little bit better, and even hit the target on aerodynamic tests. But the efficiency of the plant was significantly lower than that of anti-aircraft missile complexes of those times, and therefore, the project was closed. Recent rumors about the resumption of development of laser weapons in the Russian Federation is likely connected with the further development of the “Omega” – for two decades, new technologies that may be able to breathe new life into the project.

In the US, previously also has been conducted tests of such systems. In recent years, the US was very close to the creation of laser air defense at short-range – primarily the task of having to destroy the missiles, mines and enemy drones. System HEL MD (High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, mobile high-energy laser demonstrator) was able to hit for more than 90 minutes and a few drones. Information regarding the development of systems of this class comes from other countries – Israel, Japan, South Korea, etc. Nevertheless, talk about the success of this concept is too early – important price-performance ratio, compared with the traditional SAM and antiaircraft artillery, short-range.


 Laser rifles, pistols, anti-tank weapons, and so on.

Attempts to create such tools were made repeatedly, but faced with the same problem – lack of sufficiently powerful light sources. As a result, a laser power /AK47 may be the size of a truck. The task of destroying tanks even more difficult – to burn through the thick armor of modern tanks, guns need enormous power, with the shooting should be done with a small distance. Much more real was the task of creating blinding lasers. Prototypes of these rifles have been created in China. But such weapons are considered inhumane and their use is now banned, supposedly.



The promise of laser weapons is greatly exaggerated and overblown by the media and governments. The development of laser weapons will not be able to shift the balance of power in the world. Furthermore, neither the US nor the Russian Federation have any significant advance in these technologies.

Creating effective laser systems strategic missile defense cannot be created by human beings in any foreseeable future. Such projects require breakthroughs in physics.

To develop projects laser rifles, tanks, etc. necessary to the creation of new energy sources with compact size and low weight, but allocated to several orders of magnitude more energy.

The most promising trend now is to create a system of short-range air defense. In addition, it may be an interesting attempt to create a laser protection for combat aircraft – to blind the infrared homing missiles near MANPADS and missile combat does not need too much power of the beam, in such a situation more difficult is the quick and accurate pointing the laser at the target.

Systems of laser optical systems to suppress the enemy will soon start flowing in the armies of certain countries, notably the US, the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, and Israel. Also in the course will proceed a system to detect, dazzle and blind snipers.

Laser one

Laser two


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Secret Intelligence Service

The Prospects of Laser and Beam Weapons

Updated for Discussion. R15.  24 08 2017



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