US, WASHINGTON (NEWS OBSERVATORY) — The unique properties of laser make its “weaponization” inevitable
In the science fiction movie “Star Wars”, whether it is a dazzling laser gun, laser sword, or the ultimate weapon “death star” that emits a super-strong beam to destroy the planet, the scene of the sky full of light beams has won the audience’s attention.
Today, the sci-fi scenes on the big screen have partially become reality. Moreover, this change is continuing and showing an acceleration.
Why are countries so eager to develop laser weapons? Borrowing the sayings in the martial arts novels, laser weapons may be compared to the high-powered “six-sword sword” that can be freely swayed across the sky.
This power comes from the unique properties of the laser, from its huge potential to become an ideal weapon in the future.
Laser light is the light emitted by particles in some material atoms excited by light or electricity to a certain extent. This beam has the same phase, frequency, and direction. The color is very pure and the energy is highly concentrated. Therefore, it is called “the fastest knife”, “the brightest light”, and “the most accurate ruler”.
It can irradiate the target by directional emission, use high energy to heat the target surface material to soften, melt, gasify and even ionize in an instant, and it is always silent.
This feature makes “laser weaponization” inevitable, and makes laser weapons have advantages unmatched by other weapons.
One is fast. The laser beam can be directed at the target at a speed of 300,000 kilometers per second. The general interceptor missile speed is Mach 10, and the laser speed is more than 80,000 times faster. If the energy is strong enough to concentrate, discovery and destruction will become a reality. Moreover, the beam direction can be flexibly adjusted, and the tactical flexibility is strong.
The second is accurate. The launching device is not affected by recoil and the system is stable. The laser beam attacks the target along a straight line, the divergence angle is small, and it is almost not affected by electromagnetic interference. If the conditions are complete, you can do whatever you want.
The third is ruthless. The energy of the laser beam is concentrated, and if it is focused on the key part of the target, it can “snake and hit seven inches”, causing devastating damage, and no pollution like nuclear weapons.
Fourth, the cost-effectiveness ratio is high. Unlike other weapon systems that consume missiles and shells, laser weapons consume electrical energy. As long as it has enough power, it can continue to fight.
From the point of view of lethality, it can cause three kinds of damage to the target almost simultaneously.
One is thermal ablation damage. The target absorbs huge energy in an instant and appears ablation and perforation, which is currently the main means of laser weapon damage or blinding the target.
The second is radiation damage. After the target surface is irradiated with laser, plasma will be formed, and the plasma radiates ultraviolet or X-ray, which damages and paralyzes the electronic equipment inside the target.
The third is mechanical destruction. When the laser irradiates the target, the plasma is ejected outward at a high speed, and the recoil pressure acts on the target, causing shock wave superposition, and the resulting stretching force deforms and breaks the target. In this way, physical damage to the target’s thin metal casing can be caused.
Moreover, the laser energy can be cumulatively increased, converged into stronger energy, and cause greater damage to the target.
Because of this, from the day of the birth of the laser generator, various countries have been wrestling in the field of laser weaponization in order to take the lead in this field and form an advantage.
Set off a new round of upsurge, some laser weapons from R & D to actual combat
With the development of science and technology and the overall improvement of industrial capabilities, at present, various countries have set off a new wave of research and development in laser weapons, reflecting new characteristics.
First, military powers have joined in.
Last May, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized in Sochi when he hosted a meeting between the Ministry of National Defense and the National Defense Industry Complex that “the development of laser weapons projects is extremely important. It will determine Russia to a considerable extent in the next few decades, even throughout the 21st century The combat effectiveness of the army. “Prior to this, the Russian Ministry of Defense newspaper” Red Star “published an article saying that” Pellesvet “laser weapons started fighting on duty in some Russian military regions. This indicates that Russia ’s efforts in this regard have taken the lead in obtaining a generous return.
Compared with Russia, the United States also attaches great importance to the research and development of high-energy laser weapons. Its sea, land and air forces have their own laser weapon development plans. According to the British “Jane’s Defense Weekly” website, Boeing promoted its compact laser weapon system at the 2020 National Seminar of the Surface Naval Association. In June last year, the US Marine Corps revealed that the prototype of its “claw” compact laser weapon system had begun anti-drones testing. This can give a glimpse of the development of laser weapons in the United States.
Israel has achieved certain results through independent R & D and cooperative R & D. At the 2014 Singapore Air Show, they launched a prototype of the “Iron Beam” laser weapon system with a maximum effective range of 7 kilometers.
The European branch of the European Missile Group and the Rhine Metallurgical Company have been working on the development of German high-power lasers for many years. In 2016, the Rhine Metallurgical Company also experimentally installed a laser gun on a warship.
In 2017, the British Ministry of Defence handed over a £ 30 million defense contract to the National Defense Manufacturers Alliance led by the British subsidiary of the European Missile Group to manufacture “laser directed energy weapon performance demonstration equipment.”
In the 2018 defense budget of Japan, Japan also allocated funds for the development of prototypes of land-based laser weapons.
Secondly, the rhythm of low-power laser weapons towards actual combat has accelerated, and the research and development of high-power laser weapons has taken a step forward.
Although in the Cold War period, there were countries that manufactured high-power laser weapons, such as Boeing ’s YAL-1 airborne laser weapon project and the Soviet Union ’s A-60 project based on Il-76, but due to its large size, Due to high manufacturing costs and lack of instant super energy, these plans were eventually terminated.
Nowadays, with the adjustment of the research and development direction of various countries, some low-power laser weapons have entered the test phase.
“High-energy laser tactical vehicle” is one of the two projects that the US Army focuses on. Although it is called “high energy”, it belongs to a low power level in laser weapons. In 2015, Lockheed Martin conducted a test of the “Athena” laser weapon system in this project and used it to penetrate the engine cover of a pickup truck 1.6 km away, partially ablating the engine inside. And transmission system. In 2017, in the test of “Athena”, the flying “Deviant” drone was disintegrated in the air after being hit. The power of the laser weapon system is said to be up to 30 kilowatts.
In 2017, the United Kingdom announced a test video of a new anti-aircraft laser weapon. Within a few seconds, the target aircraft was interrupted into two segments in the air.
The information revealed by such tests is that low-power laser weapons are accelerating towards actual combat.
Regarding the research and development of high-power laser weapons, limited by objective conditions, some countries have already taken steps, and some countries are still in the accumulation stage.
The relevant parameters of Russia’s “Pellesvet” have always been secret and undisclosed. Judging from the objects it delivers, some experts believe that it may be a relatively powerful laser weapon. If this is the case, Russia has taken a solid step towards the development of high-power laser weapons.
For the United States, the laser weapons developed by the Army are not very powerful. The Army once planned to use the Navy ’s larger power laser weapons projects. The first set of “shipborne laser dazzling interceptors” that the US Navy has boarded the ship, according to the contract signed between Lockheed Martin and the US military in 2018, its power should be between 60 and 150 kW. This can basically reflect the progress of the US laser weapon development.
For megawatt laser weapons, the US Navy once hoped to complete deployment in 2025. To achieve this step, obviously there is still a long way to go.
Finally, the deployment of laser weapons presents a full platform trend.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Mike Griffin recently said at a gathering of defense reporters: “The United States is increasing its research efforts on laser weapons and microwave weapons, and will be equipped as soon as possible to ground forces, the air force and deployed into space. It can be seen that, like Russia, the United States also intends to transform laser weapons into a major weapon system covering all arms of the entire military.
In fact, this trend has been reflected in the testing of laser weapons. At present, the known test platforms for laser weapons include not only destroyers, amphibious assault ships, armored vehicles, trucks, fighter planes, helicopters, drones, but also self-contained independent combat systems.
The resurgence of mountains and waters, high-power laser weapons can be expected in the future
The advantages of laser weapons are obvious, but it is not easy to really develop laser weapons with considerable power.
To effectively destroy a target with a laser weapon, first of all, two main conditions must be met: first, the laser beam energy is strong enough, and second, the time spent on the target is long enough.
Where does a sufficiently strong laser beam come from? First, there must be a powerful laser, used to emit sufficient energy laser. Second, there must be a beam control and emission device with excellent performance to ensure that the emitted laser energy is highly concentrated.
How to ensure that the laser illuminates the target long enough to accumulate enough energy to damage the target? This requires a high-precision aiming and tracking system, and then through the calculation and adjustment of the integrated command control and communication system, the laser beam always acts on the key parts of the moving target.
At the same time, the efficient operation of high-power laser weapons also requires the support of powerful energy supply systems, heat dissipation devices, overcoming atmospheric effects and other devices.
These devices and systems are difficult for R & D personnel to face and overcome. Objectively speaking, on the road of researching and developing high-power laser weapons, Guanshan is still obstructed, and there are many difficulties.
First, the demand for power supply is high, but it is difficult to achieve miniaturization of super energy storage equipment quickly. The large size of the power supply module is the most important reason for restricting the use of high-power laser weapons on various weapon platforms. The power supply efficiency is not high and the firing interval is long.
Fortunately, new high-energy battery technologies have continuously made breakthroughs in recent years. In addition, some countries also have certain research and application in the field of miniaturization of nuclear devices, which also provides options for the development and use of high-power laser weapons.
Second, the technology of compact, high-power lasers has yet to mature. At present, chemical lasers are mainly able to provide megawatt-level transmission power, but this type of laser has a large volume, a small power value per unit volume, and poor adaptability to the battlefield environment.
With the miniaturization of solid-state lasers and the development of a new generation of electronic lasers, high-energy laser weapons with tactical application potential and launch powers of tens of thousands of watts to hundreds of thousands of watts are emerging. However, the transmitter that reaches the megawatt-level transmission power standard still needs to be continuously explored and researched and developed by various countries.
The third is the need for higher stability and high precision beam tracking technology. The development of laser weapons will not be limited to combating low-altitude, short-range, and low-speed moving targets. It will inevitably be expanded to attack high-speed moving targets such as manned fighters and ballistic missiles. This will inevitably affect the stability and stability of beam tracking technology. The accuracy puts forward higher requirements.
In addition, some congenital defects in laser weapons also need to be compensated. For example, laser beams are difficult to play in heavy fog, heavy snow, heavy rain and sand and dust weather; atmospheric disturbance and scattering are easy to cause laser energy attenuation; in hills, many The effect is greatly reduced when used in mountains, dense vegetation or narrow urban environments with tall buildings.
In general, although the development of laser weapons has been resurrected, the future is expected. With the continuous development of technology, the bottleneck problems encountered in the research and development of high-power laser weapons may be gradually overcome one by one. Future laser weapons will inevitably show their unique superpowers in combating UAV “wolf attack”, hypersonic weapon interception, dealing with saturation strikes, anti-missile and anti-satellite, etc.
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Article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by News Observatory staff in our US newsroom.