Thwarting Laser Weapons, China Claims Developing Technology That Can Make US Weapons Completely Useless

Chinese scientists claim to have developed a material that may shield missiles from laser defense systems without obstructing the view of their intended target. 

The development of laser weapons has increased in the face of an intensifying arms race between the West and China. As a result, the emergence of this weapon could bring new challenges for missile sensors. 

Laser weapons that can unleash a beam to divert a homing missile are found on several expensive military equipment, including Air Force One and Apache combat helicopters. 

Most of these defense systems can’t shoot down the missile, but they can cause it to lose its target by producing a large and intense glare on its infrared sensor. 

But, China has now reportedly created a smart film that is entirely transparent when used on the lens of an infrared sensor but highly effective at shielding dangerous light. 

Professor Lu Yuan and his colleagues at the National University of Defense Technology in Hefei designed and developed the smart film, reported SCMP. 

The scientists suggested that the film converts into a metallic barrier when the missile senses a laser beam, which may divert most of the beam’s energy.

In an article published on January 10 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Electronic Measurement and Instrumentation, Lu’s group claimed that this phase-change characteristic could shield infrared thermal imaging systems from laser interference.

In lab tests, it was found that the coating could reroute 90% of the laser’s energy away from the sensor. This implies that a blinding glare that almost completely blocks the viewing area of the missile sensor could be reduced to a small bright point.

This energy partially saturates the thermal imager, but because the saturation area is tiny, the thermal imager can still effectively image and observe the target area.

US Army Apache helicopter

How Did China Develop The New Coating?

The US has also been exploring ways to laser-proof its bombs and missiles. The goal isn’t to make the weaponry “impervious” to ray gun blasts. The shield’s purpose is to delay the laser from burning through the skin of a weapon – five seconds should suffice.

Substances like ceramic can effectively absorb the energy of a beam. However, most coatings only function in a limited range of laser wavelengths. Multiple coating layers can be beneficial but obstruct the missile’s field of view and limit the sensor’s detecting range and precision.

The new coating developed by the Chinese researchers uses vanadium, a silver-like metal found predominantly in China, Russia, and South Africa. Vanadium can alter the coating from transparent and semiconductive to a metallic state that blocks light when heated. 

Researchers have already created similar coatings. However, these prototypes’ phase changes were sluggish and unstable since an outside heat source, like electric wires, was used to regulate the temperature.

AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System - Wikipedia
For representation: AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System – Wikipedia

To address the issue, the Chinese researchers developed a thin vanadium coating on top of a composite built of gallium nitride (GaN). This high-performance semiconductor material is employed in 5G smartphones and other consumer devices.

The Chinese researcher said that the GaN bottom layer could accurately control the temperature of the vanadium film, allowing for a rapid response to a laser danger. 

According to a Beijing-based researcher studying laser-proof technology, using a vanadium coating is not a novel concept. Some smart windows have employed similar technology. 

However, making it operate in combat under complicated and fast-changing situations remains a significant issue. Nevertheless, the publication has omitted crucial technical information for obvious reasons. 

For example, Lu’s team claimed the sensor could still obtain a comprehensive and clear sight of the target while the vanadium shield was activated, but they did not clarify how this was accomplished.

The first step in defeating laser defense systems is reducing the glare’s intensity. Laser pulses can create a series of light spots on the heat image when a missile approaches a target, and these spots alter substantially as the distance closes. 

The researcher explains that these disruptions confuse the missile and make it miss its target. The latest breakthrough might significantly improve defending the missiles against laser weapons.