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Analysis: Global military power of laser weapons Part 1

All military world powers have joined the race to create laser weapons. They have to easily destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles, spacecraft, and other arms and hardware. So far, the task is to destroy adversary optics or small drones and mortar mines at best, the Independent Military Review writes.
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Roadmap of laser weapons development in the U.S. Air Force. (Picture source U.S. Air Force)

The information provision of the laser race has acquired an immense scope and each participant works to camouflage the real achievements. The first laser was demonstrated to the public in 1960. Laser weapons have existed outside the modern arms context since then. Movies made an ordinary citizen perceive lasers as a weapon of the future. He who makes the future a reality will change the world. The prospect motivates race participants more than a key advantage in the ground, air. sea and space battlefield provided by a weapon on new physical principles.

Laser abbreviation means Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission Radiation. It is a quantum optical generator transferring electric, light, chemical and heat energy into an emission beam that can penetrate any armor.

The excellent combat capabilities of a laser include the speed of light, high precision, interception of maneuvering targets, the absence of recoil and exposing factors (smoke, fire, noise), the absence of munitions and a low cost of one shot. They are proportional to major drawbacks. The laser beam diffuses in the atmosphere and loses focus. The beam has a 0.3-0.5-meter diameter at a distance of 250 km which decreases its temperature and the beam poses no danger for the target. The beam is affected by smoke, rain and fog. The laser can fire only directly. Over-the-horizon fire is impossible. Any mirror surface reflects the laser beam regardless of the power of emission. The key drawback is high power consumption. No solution has been found so far to minimize the generator and provide a beam capable of destroying an aircraft or a tank.

An event was reported in May which illustrates the situation with modern laser arms. The Pentagon postponed the first laser trials onboard a fighter jet by the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program. The laser has to protect US aircraft against air and ground guided missiles. The tests were scheduled in 2021, but postponed to 2023. COVID-19 pandemic was cited as the reason, but some technical problems were also mentioned.

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstration Program successfully completed a major program milestone with the successful surrogate laser weapon system shoot down of multiple air launched missiles in flight, April 23, 2019.

During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility, the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System, acting as a ground-based test surrogate for the SHiELD system, was able to engage and shoot down several air launched missiles in flight. The demonstration is an important step of the SHiELD system development, by validating laser effectiveness against the target missiles. The final SHiELD system, however, will be much smaller and lighter, as well as ruggedized for an airborne environment.

The SHiELD program is developing a directed energy laser system on an aircraft pod that will serve to demonstrate self-defense of aircraft against surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. High Energy Laser technology has made significant gains in performance and maturity due to continued research and development by AFRL and others in the science and technology ecosystem. It is considered to be a game changing technology that will bring new capabilities to the warfighter.

US Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin said he was skeptical regarding laser engagement for the missile defense of a combat aircraft. Under Secretary of Defense Will Roper suggested dropping the idea and focusing on drone destruction. It is clear that SHiELD designers — Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing are in a deadend.

It looks more feasible to install 60KW high-power laser on fire support Ghostrider AC-130J aircraft and big airlifters.

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