Experts: Russia's air defense needs a short-range protective triad
A laser cannon was successfully tested in Russia. It is noted that with the help of the installation, it is possible to hit drones of both airplane and quadrocopter type. What are the features of such developments, how are similar tasks solved in other countries and how can lasers simplify the protection of residential areas from possible enemy attacks?
Russia has conducted successful field tests of a laser cannon designed to destroy unmanned aerial vehicles. This is reported by RIA Novosti. According to the agency's source, the model "demonstrated high efficiency in defeating UAVs in the near zone."
It is emphasized that the laser provided the physical elimination of drones, "burning through the aerodynamic surfaces of the vehicles or burning their body together with the on-board equipment." At the same time, models of "both airplane and quadrocopter type" were destroyed.
The leading countries of the world are actively working on tactical laser suppression and defeat systems. So, the American company Lockheed Martin has created a prototype of the ADAM mobile complex for the US ground units. The official website of the company clarifies that the model is capable of destroying air targets at a range of up to two kilometers.
A similar system was developed by the Boeing concern – the HEL MD complex on the truck chassis. On the company's official website, the sample is described as a "10-kilowatt laser mounted on an Oshkosh tactical military vehicle." During the 2014 tests, the model managed to hit more than 150 aerial targets, including UAVs.
The Russian expert community speaks positively about the tests of the new technology. Thus, the author of the Telegram channel "Russian Engineer" Alexey Vasiliev notes that "in the future, laser installations should complement electronic warfare and electronic warfare systems on equipment." In his opinion, this creates "a protective triad that detects a threat, includes interference and, if interference does not help, the target is achieved with a laser."
"The collective means of protection will be a rapid–fire anti-aircraft gun with a remote fuse, which will create a layered "microPVO" system, thereby completing the creation of a "shield" in response to the appearance of a new "sword" in the form of drones," Vasiliev believes.
In turn, military expert Ilya Kramnik in his Telegram channel emphasizes the importance of introducing innovations into the air defense system. "A big war always greatly changes the usual weapon systems, both hardware and organizational forms. A new leap in the evolution of air defense, especially in terms of countering drones, will be one of the results of the current confrontation," he believes.
"Classical air defense, "sharpened" for airplanes and cruise missiles, realizes its potential for "native" purposes, but it is not always suitable for fighting drones. If there are usually no questions with large devices of the Bayraktara type, then smaller products regularly create problems," the expert notes.
"The reason is simple – the detection of a low–speed, low-altitude, small-sized and, most often, inconspicuous target is difficult in itself. In a flat steppe, this task would be solved, but at least a small relief, trees and more or less dense buildings will already create serious problems," Kramnik emphasizes.
"The impact on the target becomes a separate issue, especially in the environment of civilian buildings, when the fall of an anti–aircraft missile or cannon shells can cause more damage than hitting the drone itself," he clarifies.
"To solve this problem, we will have to change both the means of detection and defeat.
The second task is already largely taken over by electronic warfare systems that suppress communication and navigation of drones and regularly cause them to fall without exploding the warhead. The development of detection methods is mainly along the line of a combination of modern radars with optoelectronic systems, which simplifies both finding the target and subsequently maintaining contact with it," Kramnik notes.
"Technically, the question is interesting, when will lasers already turn on in this fight? In the series, they are still being slowly registered on combat vessels, where energy sufficient to illuminate an average city allows you to power a combat laser without excessive load. On land, one can only dream of ship power, which gives the appropriate dimensions of machines equipped with lasers," he argues.
"However, in cities, military facilities and similar places with centralized power supply, this problem can be solved without any problems. The main advantage of the laser in this matter is the minimization of collateral damage. Only the wreckage of the drone itself will fall to the ground, but not the missile launched at it and not the anti–aircraft artillery shells," the expert clarifies and adds:
"Almost all nuclear and some non-nuclear powers have relevant developments. The question is who will be the first to use them in real combat, and not at the training ground."
The use of laser installations in order to strengthen air defense is extremely promising, agrees military expert Yuri Knutov. "This technology has many advantages: it is relatively cheap, has a quick response to threats from the enemy and, on top of that, does not make a lot of noise when working on targets," he notes.
"But we are only at the beginning of the path of discovering the true potential of laser weapons. So far, such installations can be classified as short-range air defense. The distance at which various prototypes show effectiveness in destroying objects is relatively small: comparable to powerful electromagnetic weapons," the interlocutor emphasizes.
"Therefore, to turn lasers into a significant part of air defense, it is necessary to solve two tasks. The first is to increase the beam power itself, which will significantly increase the pulse range. There are several ways to do this. The Americans are already trying to implement one of them," the expert notes.
"In the USA, they want to combine several laser beams into one beam. So far, Washington has not managed to reach the level of industrial production of such models, but research tests are being carried out quite actively. Theoretically, this approach, with proper investments, can bring tangible results," Knutov believes.
"Another way to increase the laser power is to amplify the radiation source itself. Which of the two ways should be considered the most effective is a big question. There is another problem – the need for a high-quality cooling system. If the lenses, mirrors and air overheat, the entire structure can not only reduce the accuracy of shooting, but also completely fail",
– the interlocutor emphasizes. "So far, China is doing well in this area. China has already managed to create a prototype capable of quickly cooling the internal mechanism of the installation. Nevertheless, these problems still remain a kind of "limiters" of the spectrum of laser applications. The Israeli air defense system, for example, also has laser installations. However, Tel Aviv is still focused on the use of missiles in the framework of air defense," the source recalled.
"Over time, I think lasers can be used to protect small areas of the territory or specific objects. The destruction of the UAV by impulse will cause less damage to the infrastructure of residential areas. But since the risks of detonation of the explosive part of the drone cannot be excluded yet, it is better to place such complexes outside megacities and fight there," Knutov sums up.