In what could be a historic combat move in the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has become the ‘first country’ to field laser weapons in a war. This development comes after Russia became the first nation to use hypersonic missiles on Ukraine.
Russia recently revealed that it was using a new generation of powerful lasers to burn down enemy drones, thus deploying some of Moscow’s secret weapons to confront a torrent of Western arms, Reuters reported.
The Ukrainian military has widely deployed armed drones, including the ones it received from NATO countries, against Russia. These drones have been deployed across the length and breadth of the country for crucial missions and, to Kyiv’s satisfaction, have delivered several operational victories.
The most popular of these drones – the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar reportedly played a significant role in sinking the pride of the Russian Black Sea fleet – the Moskva missile cruiser, which was attacked by Ukrainian Neptune missiles.
A host of other drones have been tracking and attacking Russian troops, thus becoming a major irritant for Moscow.
Russian tanks have been the worst affected by the Ukrainian Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The Turkish TB2 Bayraktar drones, Ukraine’s home-grown armed UAVs, and the kamikaze-style drones like the Switchblade have carried out several strikes on Russian convoys and equipment.
Ukraine has modified several commercial drones to carry munition to be dropped off on Russian tanks and military vehicles. A video released earlier this month showed how a small armed Ukrainian drone searches for a sophisticated Russian T-90 tank and then accurately drops a pair of bombs on it.
Russia has adopted several counter-measures for its ground-based equipment, owing to a spate of attacks by stealthy spy drones deployed by Ukraine. The exposure of armor to drones for lack of any stealth component has rendered them vulnerable to attack. The only way for Russian troops to eliminate these drones is by shooting them down.
Peresvet: Is Russia The 1st Nation To Use Laser Weapons?
The new laser weapons that Russia is reportedly deploying are part of the cutting-edge systems unveiled by the Russian President a few years ago.
In 2018, Putin unveiled the laser weapon ‘Peresvet’ for the first time. Accompanying his patronizing remarks about the system was a video that showed a semi-trailer carrying the laser in its aft section. The device was seen spinning quickly in different directions, demonstrating its capacity to monitor moving targets.
The new laser weapon’s technical specifications are unknown. However, the Peresvet, which was named after Alexander Peresvet, a medieval Orthodox warrior monk who died in mortal combat, has been in service for a while.
Later, the Ministry of Defense uploaded another Peresvet video to its YouTube channel. The accompanying press release provided little information on the system’s purpose but stated that Peresvet laser vehicles had been relocated to their deployment areas and were undergoing preparations to “enter combat duty.”
Most analysts believe that it was unlikely to be powerful enough to destroy targets physically but that it was intended to disrupt the optical systems of vehicles attempting to attack mobile ICBMs with which it is known to have been deployed.
The Russian Deputy Prime Minister said that more powerful systems than Peresvet already existed that could destroy drones and other equipment. Borisov also mentioned a test conducted earlier this week in which he claimed a drone 5 kilometers away was destroyed in five seconds.
“If Peresvet blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons lead to the physical destruction of the target – thermal destruction, they burn up,” he told Russian state television. Asked if such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: “Yes. The prototypes are already being used there.” He said the weapon was called “Zadira”.
According to Yury Borisov, the deputy prime minister in charge of military development, this new ‘secret’ laser weapon is already widely deployed and can blind satellites up to 1,500 kilometers above Earth. This laser could be an upgrade of the existing Peresvet or an all-new class of laser weapon.
⚡️⚡️⚡️ Russia is using laser weapons in the war against Ukraine. Russian deputy PM Borisov said it's “Zadira” (Задира, Bully) laser system. Little is known about what exactly the laser weapon does. Borisov said it's the target at a distance of up to 5 km.
— Alexander Khrebet/Олександр Хребет (@AlexKhrebet) May 18, 2022
The use of laser weapons in combat comes just about two months after Russia became the first country to use a hypersonic weapon in combat. In March, it had fired a Kinzhal hypersonic missile to destroy an underground arms depot in the western part of Ukraine.
So, while Russia has been caught on the back foot due to the incredible fight put up by the Ukrainian military, it has nonetheless deployed weapons that the world is still getting to know about.
Is Russia the first country to use laser weapons in combat remains shrouded in mystery? An official with the US Department of Defense said he had not seen “anything to corroborate reports of lasers being used” in Ukraine.
Israel has successfully tested the new “Iron Beam” laser interception system.
This is the world’s first energy-based weapons system that uses a laser to shoot down incoming UAVs, rockets & mortars at a cost of $3.50 per shot.
It may sound like science fiction, but it's real. pic.twitter.com/nRXFoYTjIU
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) April 14, 2022
Last month, Israel tested the first-ever laser interception system ‘Iron Beam’ which can shoot down enemy aircraft, UAVs, rockets, and mortars by directing laser beams at it. The laser-based defense system was first used to shoot down a drone in June last year.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had said it could shoot down drones, mortars and rockets for just $3.50 a shot. “It may sound like science fiction, but it’s real,” he said.
How Are Russian Lasers Hitting Ukraine?
Laser weapons are Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) that strike a target by focusing high energy on it and are generally known to be blinding for human beings. Military-grade laser beams, sometimes known as “dazzlers,” produce a powerful beam of light that can travel great distances and can be used to temporarily blind pilots of fighter jets by illuminating cockpits.
However, the laser weapon capable of burning a target that it strikes has remained under research and development for years. According to experts, the power of even the most advanced laser weapons was still too weak to make an impact on the battlefield in Ukraine.
According to the Reuters report, almost nothing is known about Zadira, but Russian media reported in 2017 that the state nuclear enterprise Rosatom assisted in its development as part of a campaign to develop weapons based on new physical principles.
Apart from the obvious benefit of destroying drones, blinding reconnaissance systems have a strategic consequence, as satellites are employed to track nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Borisov claimed to have just returned from Sarov, Russia’s nuclear weapons research center. He predicted that a new generation of laser weapons with a broad electromagnetic band would eventually supplant conventional weapons.
“This is not some sort of exotic idea; it is the reality,” Borisov said.
Ukrainian President Zelensky was unimpressed by these claims. He mockingly compared the news of the lasers to Nazi Germany’s so-called “wonder weapons” released in an attempt to avoid defeat during World War Two.
Russian claims about the use of novel laser weapons in Ukraine are akin to Nazi Germany's Wunderwaffe. The clearer it became that Nazis had no chance, the more talks there were about "miracle weapons."
Russia bringing up "Wunderwaffe" means invasion totally failed – Zelenskyy pic.twitter.com/PT88I7CSZK
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) May 19, 2022
“The clearer it became that they had no chance in the war, the more propaganda there was about an amazing weapon that would be so powerful as to ensure a turning point,” he said in a late-night video address. “And so we see that in the third month of a full-scale war, Russia is trying to find its ‘wonder weapon’ … this all clearly shows the complete failure of the mission.”
Dr. Uzi Rubin, a missile expert from JISS who was quoted by the BBC said – “Zelensky is right – it’s no wonder weapon.” “It’s not like in Star Wars where they point a laser gun at the bad guys, push a button, and the bad guy explodes.
In actuality, it’s more like a microwave. If you want to boil a cup of water, it will take some time. The laser is the same. You need to put it on the target and wait until it heats up and destroys it,” he said.
If the Russian claims about its laser weapons taking out enemy drones are correct, it could indeed be a game-changer. Laser weapons are low-cost, high-impact solutions. They are extremely accurate, as well as extremely flexible and reusable.