andalusia wrote:Should Russia be concerned about the US developing lasers and putting them on aircraft? Are the Russians investing in laser technology?http://www.vocativ.com/316949/laser-weapon-airplane/
Not at the moment. Airborne laser weapons suffer from four major handicaps:
1) Stability. To achieve burn-through of the target, the laser needs to shine continuously at the same point. Assuming it is firing at a 'dumb' target such as a drone or missile, air turbulence will make the firing platform quiver constantly in three dimensions making pinpoint targeting very tough, assuming the beam projector has exceptionally precise (and rapid skewing) tracking. A piloted plane would probably go into evasive manoeuvres as soon as it detected the laser beam, making burn-through far more difficult.
2) Air quality. Water vapour significantly atrophies the energy in a laser beam. Whilst high altitude flight above 10k metres is relatively clear of pollutants and vapour, all it would do is push the theatre of operations (at least during the approach phase) back below or within cloud level.
3) Range of engagement. A laser whilst capable of heating/cutting at short distances, cannot hope to match the reach of a long or even medium range missile. Even clear air still atrophies beam energy and collimation spreads quickly over range.
4) Heat dissipation. Lasers are very inefficient energy-wise. Most of the power supplied to a laser system ends up as waste heat. Now aboard a naval vessel, you can dump this excess heat straight into the sea as water is an excellent heat sink. A plane however can only rely on air flow which is far worse at absorbing heat, especially at high altitudes where the atmosphere is thinner. Also bear in mind that modern fighter jets are already straining their cooling systems just running their radars.
Those are the main difficulties. Others are the need to integrate a lot of heavy capacitors from which the energy for the laser pulse is stored, additional electrical generation from the engines guzzling fuel, partial mirroring if wavelength of the laser is known plus ablative layers which can 'foul' the beam before contact, speeding up AAM missiles to reduce closing time, the limited power output of the weapon due to poor energy generation of the hosting airframe, and so on.
All in all they are not really a threat when mounted on planes, at least not against other planes. Possibly against AAM until designers incorporate laser detection and in-flight jinking/spinning to increase its lifespan to reach its target, or if the laser is only intended to burn out optical sensors. Even then, a simple aerial tactic might be to simply fire off two missiles to swamp the laser defence.
Laser systems aboard ships are a different matter, as vessels have far greater power generation, greater firing stability and easy access to water cooling.