Battered By Drone Attacks, Russia Tests New Laser Gun That Can ‘Burn Down’ Ukraine’s Suicide UAVs

Russia is all set to field a new laser gun to combat the looming threat of hostile drones that have been hitting Russian territories and giving a tough time to its air defense systems.

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An unnamed informed source told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that Russia conducted successful field tests of a laser gun, destroying several drones of various types.

“Successful tests of a combat laser designed to destroy unmanned aerial vehicles were carried out at one of the Russian military training grounds. The laser gun demonstrated high efficiency in hitting UAVs,” the agency’s interlocutor said. The statement was translated from Russian to English.

The source explained that during the tests, “the combat laser of the infrared spectrum ensured the physical destruction of drones, in particular, burning the aerodynamic surfaces of the vehicles or burning their body along with on-board equipment.” The source further added that the laser destroyed drones of both aircraft and quadcopter types.

The testing comes when Russia has been ravaged by drone attacks that it attributes to Ukraine. In the last 48 hours, it alleged that a whopping 42 drones attacked Crimea in what is being touted as one of the biggest Ukrainian aerial attacks on Russian-held territory.

As per claims made by the Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) in the aftermath of the attack, about nine drones were destroyed, and the remaining 33 were suppressed using electronic jamming before they crashed over Crimea without successfully ramming into designated targets.

Ukraine’s drone attacks on Russia have seen a surge in recent weeks, especially since the Kremlin attack that rattled the power centers in Moscow and triggered a massive retaliation. Russian air defense forces are believed to be working overtime to combat drone attacks along the frontlines and beyond.

Laser Gun To Counter Drones

A laser-based gun that destroys UAVs would, thus, add more teeth to Russia’s defense against these drones at a time when drone warfare has become popular in modern battlefields for their affordability and ease of production as well as operation.

“Laser” stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

A laser weapon is a specific kind of directed-energy weapon that damages targets and strikes a target with a series of quick light pulses. Several laser kinds could be employed as disabling non-lethal weapons. Compared to traditional projectile weapons like bullets and missiles, lasers and other directed-energy weapons have some significant advantages.

For instance, the light outputs of the weapons can move at the speed of light, the weapons attack the targets precisely, and they can modulate their energy output, switching between high and low power.

Why Are Laser-Based Weapons The New Rage?

The ease of operation and the precision with which laser weapons work without causing collateral damage or loss of life of unintended targets is one of the primary reasons advanced militaries worldwide have been developing laser weapons. Much like Russia’s anti-drone laser gun, the laser is widely used for air defense.

There were speculations last year that Russia had become the first country to use laser weapons in combat to burn down enemy drones. In a detailed article, EurAsian Times noted that the country was believed to have two different laser weapons in its arsenal, the Persevet and Zadira.

Yury Borisov, the deputy prime minister in charge of military development, told the media previously, “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.” When asked whether such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: “Yes. The prototypes are already being used there.” He said the weapon was called “Zadira.”

However, the use of these weapons was quickly dismissed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who mocked Russian claims as baseless. In addition, an official with the US Department of Defense said he had not seen “anything to corroborate reports of lasers being used” in Ukraine.

Russia is not the only country acquiring, testing, and fielding laser weapons and laser-based countermeasures like air defenses. The world’s leading nations are actively working on tactical laser suppression and destruction systems, which should, particularly, hit drones and missiles in the air.

File Image: Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs)

Russian adversary, the US, has likewise been advancing work on laser-based air defense aimed at destroying hostile aerial targets without firing an actual shot. Earlier this year, Lockheed Martin’s Directed Energy Interceptor for Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense System (DEIMOS) achieved its “first light” milestone in development.

Another laser air defense system is Israel’s famous and first-of-its-kind laser-based Iron Beam air defense system. It can shoot down enemy aircraft, UAVs, rockets, and mortars by directing laser beams at it.

It cleared tests last year and has been projected as a new era of laser weapons. US contractor Lockheed Martin is also part of the project.

Lockheed Martin last year revealed that it had delivered a 300kW-class High-Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS) system to the Defense Department for use in future Army high-energy laser demonstrations. It is the highest-powered laser to date for the US Department of Defense.

US Army’s Indirect Fires Protection Capability-High Energy Laser (IFPC-HEL) Demonstrator laser weapon system. (Image courtesy Lockheed Martin)

This July, the US Army announced that Lockheed Martin had been granted an “other transaction authority” contract valued at a maximum of $220.8 million to develop, integrate, manufacture, test, and deliver an Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser (IFPC-HEL) prototype weapon system.

Another military superpower, China, has made major advances in laser weapons. In the Zhuhai Air Show held in November 2022, China unveiled the vehicle-based laser weapon called the LW-30 laser defense weapon system, which was projected and dubbed as the “killer of UAVs.”

At the time, Chinese state media carried reports that suggested that the weapon could perform successful attacks against low, slow, and small (LSS) targets, defined as those that travel at speeds of roughly 200 kilometers/hour, fly below an altitude of one kilometer, and have a radar cross-section smaller than one square meter.

In a separate development, high-energy laser beams were successfully used in January this year by a group of Chinese academics from Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU) to power a drone, thereby keeping it in the air “forever.” As opposed to bringing the target drone down, this innovation was keenly watched to keep it afloat.

Besides China, Japan has also been working on laser-based anti-drone technology, as became evident when Japanese defense companies Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) unveiled their respective laser systems for shooting down approaching hostile Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) at the DSEI Japan 2023 show.

Laser weapons are a brand-new class of weapon that all militaries are concentrating on creating, especially as militaries worldwide are extensively acquiring lethal drones.

When a high-powered laser is concentrated on a single spot on a drone, and the energy level is high enough, the weapon can immediately burn through the UAV’s control panel, making it an efficient anti-drone system.