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China’s Pioneering Progress in Laser Directed Energy Weapons: Countering Enemy Missiles, Satellites, and Submarines

Introduction

The world of military technology is witnessing a paradigm shift, and at the forefront of this transformation are Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs). Among these, Laser Directed Energy Weapons (LDEWs) stand out as potential game-changers. They offer a revolutionary approach to countering both asymmetric and traditional threats, thanks to their precision, rapid targeting capabilities, scalability, cost-efficiency, and the ability to minimize collateral damage. In this article, we’ll delve into China’s remarkable strides in developing LDEWs, capable of neutralizing enemy missiles, satellites, and submarines.

 

Precision and Efficiency: The Power of Laser Technology

Laser Directed Energy Weapons (LDEWs) represent a revolutionary leap in military technology, offering precision, rapid targeting, scalability, and cost-efficiency that surpass traditional kinetic weapons. Their pinpoint accuracy minimizes collateral damage, making them invaluable in modern conflict scenarios. LDEWs deliver nearly instantaneous on-target effects, enhancing their effectiveness in responding to emerging threats.

LDEWs, such as high-energy lasers, represent a significant leap in military technology. Their key advantages over conventional kinetic weapons include:

  1. High Precision: Laser systems can precisely target and engage threats, minimizing the risk of collateral damage.
  2. Collateral Damage Mitigation: Traditional kinetic weapons often pose the risk of collateral damage, as the fragmentation of ammunition can affect nearby non-combatants and infrastructure. In contrast, LDEWs drastically reduce this risk by delivering focused energy without explosive fragmentation. This feature aligns with modern warfare’s increasing emphasis on minimizing unintended consequences.
  3. Rapid On-Target Effect: These weapons offer nearly instantaneous target engagement, improving response times.
  4. Scalable Effects: Laser power can be adjusted for different targets, making them versatile and adaptable. This scalability enables LDEWs to engage a wide range of targets, from small drones to larger threats like missiles or even satellites.
  5. Minimal Logistics Overhead: LDEWs require relatively low logistical support and have lower operational costs compared to traditional ammunition. Consequently, the cost per firing is significantly lower than traditional munitions.

These versatile weapons can be tailored to engage a wide range of targets, from small drones to larger threats like missiles and satellites. Furthermore, LDEWs reduce logistical overhead and cost per firing, as they do not rely on conventional ammunition, making them a cost-effective alternative in military operations.

China’s Advanced LDEW Development

China’s pursuit of advanced laser-directed energy weapons spans a spectrum from low-powered tactical beam emitters designed to thwart terrorist drones to high-energy strategic systems capable of neutralizing enemy missiles and satellites. Among their innovations, China has successfully developed various low-power laser guns engineered for short-range applications, ranging from dazzling and blinding adversaries to disrupting enemy night-vision devices.

A state-run Global Times report in 2015 unveiled the existence of four distinctive laser guns: the BBQ-905 Laser Dazzler Weapon, the WJG-2002 Laser Gun, the PY132A Blinding Laser Weapon, and the PY131A Blinding Laser Weapon, showcasing China’s commitment to advancing laser technology for a multitude of military applications.

  1. Low-Powered Tactical Systems: China has designed low-powered laser guns for short-range engagements. These devices are used for dazzling or blinding enemies at close range and disabling their night-vision equipment. Notable examples include the BBQ-905 Laser Dazzler Weapon, WJG-2002 Laser Gun, PY132A Blinding Laser Weapon, and PY131A Blinding Laser Weapon.
  2. Low Altitude Guard I (LAG I): Marketed by Poly Technologies, LAG I is an electroptical sensor-based system that targets rogue UAVs and reduces collateral damage compared to traditional anti-aircraft artillery or missiles.
  3. Anti-Satellite Capability: A U.S. Defense Department report revealed that China possesses multiple ground-based laser weapons of varying power levels designed to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites. This technology has the potential to disrupt enemy communications and reconnaissance capabilities.
  4. High-Energy Systems: China has been working on developing high-energy laser systems that can counter enemy missiles and satellites effectively. These systems are designed for both land and sea deployment, with potential use on destroyers like the Type 055.

China in race for counter-drone tech and laser weapons as it tries to catch up with US | South China Morning Post

China’s Employment of Laser Weapons

In February 2020, a concerning incident occurred when a Chinese warship reportedly fired a laser weapon at a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft. The weapon in question was described as a “dazzler” laser, designed to impair sensors or potentially harm human pilots. Essentially, it resembles a high-powered version of the hazardous act of shining a laser pointer at a commercial aircraft. The U.S. Navy expressed serious concerns over the use of such “weapons-grade lasers,” emphasizing the potential harm they pose not only to aircrew and mariners but also to ship and aircraft systems.

This event was not isolated, as in May 2018, the Pentagon had reported that two U.S. pilots suffered injuries when military-grade laser pointers were directed into their eyes from a Chinese navy base in Djibouti during their approach to the U.S. base, underscoring the recurring nature of this issue.

In 2019, there emerged reports of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) conducting tests on a tactical laser system strikingly similar to the U.S. Navy’s Laser Weapon System (LaWS), an advanced anti-surface and anti-air defensive technology that has been under development since 2014.

Notably, China showcased its version of this laser system in a promotional video broadcast by the state-owned channel CCTV. The system’s demonstration highlighted its ground-based, vehicle-mounted configuration, signifying its adaptability for both land and sea deployment. Its intended applications encompass air defense capabilities as well as close-in surface-to-surface force protection. Observers speculated that this laser system could potentially become an alternative to the PLA Navy’s existing HHQ-10 surface-to-air missile system, possibly finding integration into the weaponry of the advanced Type 055 destroyers in the years to come.

In July 2020, a significant development came to light as China embarked on the installation of colossal 20-megawatt generators on its warships, marking a strategic move to power high-energy weapons, including cutting-edge lasers and rail guns. This advancement, as reported by the South China Morning Post, entails turbo generators that effectively quadruple the power-generating capacity of these warships. This surge in power capacity opens the door to the possibility of these vessels relying entirely on electric propulsion, promising faster response times, substantial fuel savings, and enhanced maneuverability. Beyond propulsion, these generators are slated to supply energy to an array of formidable armaments, with particular emphasis on rail guns and Lasers.

 

China successfully develops anti-drone laser weapons

China has made significant strides in the development of anti-drone laser weapons, countering the threat posed by small, inexpensive unmanned drones used by terrorists. In collaboration with the China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), this laser-defense system has demonstrated its effectiveness in shooting down drones, including quadricopters and small winged drones, flying at low altitudes. The system boasts a remarkable 100 percent success rate, swiftly intercepting drones within a 2-kilometer radius, flying below 500 meters altitude, and traveling at speeds below 50 m/s (112 mph) within just five seconds of detection. Chinese Xinhua news agency, has reported 100 percent success rate of its Laser Weapon by shooting down more than 30 drones in a recent test.

Traditionally, snipers and helicopters have been employed to intercept such drones, but their success rates are less reliable and can result in unintended damage. Small-scale, unmanned drones pose a preferred choice for terrorists and can also disrupt military and civil aerial activities.

China to unveil modern LW-30 laser weapon system at Zhuhai Airshow

New laser weapon could contain air reconnaissance, be deployed in Tibet: expert - Global Times

AirShow China 2018: CPMIEC undiscloses LW-30 laser weapon system

The LW-30 laser weapon system showcased at Airshow China 2018 by CASIC is a versatile and highly responsive technology designed to detect and engage low, slow, and small (LSS) aerial targets. It is mounted on a road-mobile 6×6 tactical truck, features a 30-kilowatt laser, and offers a range of up to 25 kilometers. The system’s primary objective is to identify and neutralize low, slow, and small (LSS) targets, encompassing those flying at altitudes below one kilometer, with speeds of approximately 200 kilometers per hour, and possessing a radar cross-section smaller than one square meter.

The system can rapidly acquire and engage multiple targets. It can shift and aim at new targets within six seconds, consuming electricity only, and can integrate with traditional air defense weapon systems. The LW-30 system is similar to Poly Technologies’ Silent Hunter. The SilentHunter offers four power patterns: 5kW, 10kW, 20kW and 30kW, its interception radius ranges from 200m to 4,000m and the target capture radius is more than 4,000m.

It is adaptable to various deployment scenarios, including critical regions like the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and South China Sea islands, enhancing national security capabilities.

China’s new vehicle-based laser weapon system, known as the LW-30 laser defense weapon system, offers a practical solution to tactical reconnaissance and counterterrorism efforts. Easily deployable on various terrains, including plateau regions and islands, it promises to enhance security during major urban events. Furthermore, the CAEP is actively working on laser security systems with even greater power and range, signaling ongoing advancements in this critical technology.

Guorong-I Anti-Drone System: The Guorong-I is a short-range ground-to-air laser weapon system developed in collaboration between Guorong Technology, China Electronics Technology Group, and the public security bureau. It includes a detecting radar, electro-optical interference device, and a high-power laser ejector capable of shooting down UAVs from hundreds of meters away. The system was showcased in a public demonstration, where it successfully pierced a metal plate and brought down a drone at a range of nearly one kilometer. While it may have a less powerful “hard-kill” capability compared to some other Chinese anti-drone laser systems, it offers a versatile “soft-kill” approach suitable for various interception scenarios. The Guorong-I system is mobile and autonomous, making it easily deployable to sites with minimal support infrastructure.

Silent Hunter: Silent Hunter is a vehicle-based laser weapon developed by China Poly Group’s technology arm. It boasts impressive capabilities, including the ability to intercept low-altitude, slow-speed, and small aerial targets like drones. Silent Hunter offers four power patterns ranging from 5kW to 30kW and has an interception radius of up to 4,000 meters. What sets it apart from traditional air defense weapons is its high responsiveness, multi-target strike capability, and rapid target acquisition and engagement, all while being cost-effective and producing minimal collateral damage. It operates solely on electricity, eliminating the need for ammunition storage and transportation. Silent Hunter has seen deployment during high-profile events like the 2016 G20 Summit in China.

Light Shield Comprehensive Optoelectronic Defence System: Developed by China Electronics Technology Group, the Light Shield is a vehicle-based air defense system designed to counter incoming aircraft, a vehicle’s electro-optical pod or transmitter, or a missile’s optical guidance system. This comprehensive optoelectronic defense system integrates early warning, identification, and interference devices, along with a laser generator for damaging or destroying the target. It has been installed in Chinese army armored vehicles and was showcased at the Zhuhai Air Show in 2014.

These laser-based defense systems represent significant technological advancements in China’s arsenal, providing effective means to counter various threats, including drones and aerial targets. They offer advantages such as precision, cost-effectiveness, rapid response, and reduced collateral damage, making them valuable assets for both military and security applications.

China  ‘laser AK-47’ that can set fire to targets a kilometre away

China has introduced a groundbreaking weapon, often dubbed the ‘laser AK-47,’ capable of emitting a non-lethal but highly potent energy beam that can target objects nearly a kilometer away. Known as the ZKZM-500 laser assault rifle, this weapon generates an energy beam invisible to the naked eye yet capable of passing through windows and causing instant carbonization of human skin and tissues. A decade ago, the capabilities of this weapon would have seemed relegated to the realm of science fiction. However, it can now sear through clothing in mere seconds, potentially setting a person on fire if the fabric is flammable.

This compact 15mm calibre weapon, weighing three kilograms (6.6 pounds), which is approximately the same as an AK-47, boasts an impressive range of 800 meters (half a mile). It can be mounted on various platforms, including cars, boats, and planes, making it versatile for a range of applications. The ZKZM-500 is primed for mass production, with initial units likely to be deployed to anti-terrorism squads within the Chinese Armed Police. In scenarios such as hostage situations, it could be utilized to disable perpetrators through windows, allowing other units to safely rescue captives. Additionally, its capacity to burn through a gas tank and ignite fuel storage facilities suggests its potential for covert military operations. Its key advantage lies in its invisibility and silence, making it nearly impossible for targets to discern the source of the attack, rendering it highly effective in discreet operations.

 

China's 'Laser AK-47' Can Kill at 1km | RealClearDefense

Anti Submarine and Airborne Laser

In 2018, China initiated a clandestine endeavor known as Project Guanlan, aptly translated as “Watching the Big Waves,” with a singular mission: the eradication of U.S. submarines. What sets this project apart is its reliance on a space-based laser weapon, a concept shrouded in secrecy. Reports suggest that this space weapon possesses the capability to project lasers over 500 meters (1,640 feet) into the ocean, surpassing the depth reached by sunlight and surpassing prior attempts by both the United States and Russia in this domain. To achieve this feat, the weapon employs high-powered laser beam pulses, each varying in frequency or color, granting it a versatile array of capabilities. These laser beams possess the ability to scan an expansive area spanning up to 62 miles or focus their energy on a precise target just half a mile wide. Complementing the laser’s functionality is a microwave radar system designed to detect even the slightest disturbances on the ocean’s surface, effectively guiding the laser beam with unparalleled precision. This innovative approach essentially renders the ocean’s top layer transparent, marking a significant advancement in naval warfare technology.

In January 2020, a notable development emerged when the Chinese military’s procurement website discreetly posted a notice regarding a laser attack pod, as reported by the state-run Global Times newspaper. The details surrounding this project were marked as confidential, akin to the U.S. military’s approach when dealing with sensitive projects listed on the FedBizOps procurement site. Analysts and Chinese media took note of the nomenclature, which suggested that this device was likely an airborne tactical laser.  Weihutang, a military affairs program on Chinese state television, claimed that China has already developed a prototype 100-kilowatt airborne laser weapon. The potential applications of this technology are significant; if deployed on aircraft, the laser attack pod could potentially provide a formidable defense against incoming missile attacks and assert dominance in close-range combat scenarios.

 

Anti Satellite Laser Weapons

US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) released a report in January 2019 that stated that China had multiple ground-based laser weapons of varying power levels to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites. The report also stated that China was likely to field a ground-based laser weapon that could counter low-orbit space-based sensors by 2020, and that by the mid-to-late 2020s, it may field higher power systems that extend the threat to the structures of non-optical satellites.

There have been a number of reports in recent years that China has been testing ground-based laser weapons against satellites. In 2020, for example, the US Space Force said that it had detected a Chinese laser weapon that was being used to track a US satellite.

In 2023, there have been a number of reports about new Chinese laser weapons systems, including A high-power laser weapon that can disable satellites in low Earth orbit. This weapon is reportedly being developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

This laser weapon would be used to target satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), which is the region of space between 160 and 2,000 kilometers above the Earth. LEO satellites are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, navigation, and surveillance. A high-power laser weapon could be used to disable LEO satellites by heating their solar panels or other critical components. This would cause the satellites to overheat and fail.

In 2023, satellite imagery from the US company BlackSky showed two laser gimbals mounted in hangars at a secretive Chinese facility in Western Xinjiang. The facility is believed to be used to develop and test anti-satellite weapons.

China’s Laser Directed Energy Weapon Technology Advances

In recent developments, Chinese researchers have achieved significant breakthroughs in laser directed energy weapon technology, reducing the size and enhancing the capabilities of these weapons. Traditionally, laser directed energy weapons were large and primarily installed on warships. However, a research team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physics has achieved a groundbreaking milestone by miniaturizing this technology. They have condensed complex laser systems into a single crystal, a feat never before accomplished. This innovation simplifies the production of ultrafast lasers and reduces the overall size of related devices. The technology’s capabilities extend beyond disabling heat-seeking sensors on enemy missiles and satellites; it can also be mounted on various platforms, including aircraft, tanks, and even soldiers.

Moreover, China has made significant advancements in fiber laser technology, gradually reaching the global forefront. Demonstrations at events like Laser World of Photonics China 2014 showcased Chinese-made fiber lasers, including powerful 10KW fiber lasers. China has also mastered coherent laser beam combination technology, which involves combining multiple low-power lasers with excellent beam quality into a single high-power beam. This breakthrough addresses power limitations and opens doors to various applications, such as wide-area, ground-based defense against rockets, artillery, and mortars.

Additionally, Chinese scientists have amplified laser power through the synthesis of a non-linear crystal known as caesium bismuth germanate (CBGO). These lab-synthesized crystals magnify laser energy by a remarkable 13 times. This innovation represents a significant leap in the field of nonlinear frequency conversion, expanding the laser wavelength range. By designing and fabricating chirped periodic poled lithium niobate (CPPLN) nonlinear crystals, researchers have achieved ultrabroadband visible white light generation with high conversion efficiency, making these lasers invaluable for ultrafast lasers and broadband laser sources.

According to a report in the South China Morning Post, Chinese military scientists have announced a major breakthrough in laser weapon technology.

They claim to have developed a new cooling system that allows high-energy lasers to operate “infinitely” without any build-up of waste heat. This is a significant development, as heat has been a major challenge in the development of laser weapons. High-energy lasers generate a lot of heat, which can quickly damage the laser components and limit its firing rate.

The new cooling system is said to use a combination of advanced structures and optimized gas flow to remove heat from the laser weapon. The researchers claim that this system can completely eliminate the harmful heat that is generated during the operation of high-energy lasers.

If these claims are true, it would be a major step forward in the development of laser weapons. Laser weapons have the potential to revolutionize warfare, as they can be used to destroy targets with great speed and precision.

However, it is important to note that the Chinese military has not yet released any details about the new cooling system. It is also unclear when or if the system will be deployed in operational laser weapons.

Despite these uncertainties, the announcement of the new cooling system is a significant development. It suggests that China is making rapid progress in the development of laser weapons, and it could have a major impact on the global military balance.

Here are some potential implications of the new cooling system:

  • It could allow China to develop laser weapons with higher power and output, which could make them more effective against a wider range of targets.
  • It could allow China to develop laser weapons with longer firing rates, which could make them more dangerous to adversaries.
  • It could allow China to develop laser weapons that are more compact and mobile, which could make them easier to deploy on the battlefield.

These technological advancements position China at the forefront of laser directed energy weapon development, offering new possibilities for military applications and beyond.

India’s progress in Laser DEW

India is also investing heavily in the development of laser directed energy weapons (DEWs). The Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has a number of DEW programs underway, including:

  • The DURGA II (Directionally Unrestricted Ray-Gun Array) is a 100-kilowatt laser weapon that is designed to be used against a variety of targets, including drones, missiles, and aircraft.
  • The KALI (Kill-Aerial-Target-with-Laser-I) is a high-power laser weapon that is designed to be used against satellites.
  • The CHESS (Centre for High Energy Systems and Sciences) is developing a number of DEW technologies, including laser weapon targeting systems and power sources.

The DRDO has conducted a number of successful tests of its DEW prototypes. In 2022, the DRDO successfully tested a 100-kilowatt laser weapon against a drone. The laser weapon was able to disable the drone in seconds.

On March 11, 2022, the defence ministry announced the decision to identify 18 major platforms for industry-led design and development. It included DEWs of 300 kilowatt and more, and High Powered Electromagnetic Devices and High Powered Laser Devices.

The DRDO is also working on developing DEWs that can be integrated with a variety of platforms, including ships, aircraft, and land vehicles. It is expected that the DRDO will deploy its DEWs to the Indian military in the coming years.

 

China’s Progress Compared to Global Leaders

China has been steadily closing the technological gap with global leaders in LDEW development, particularly the United States. The U.S. Navy introduced the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) aboard the USS Ponce in 2014, marking one of the earliest deployments of a high-energy laser. LaWS successfully demonstrated its capability to disable small UAVs, destroy rocket-propelled grenades, and damage rigid hull inflatable boats during testing.

Moreover, China’s Low Altitude Guard II (LAG II) has made significant advancements.  Its range is doubled to 4 km and has a 300 percent increase in maximum power output to 30 kilowatts. That’s comparable to the Laser Weapons System (LAWS) installed on the USS Ponce, which has a range of 15-50 kilowatts for attacking UAVs, small boats, and helicopters. Officials of Poly Technologies in Beijing, the company behind the Chinese counter-drone system, say it could pierce five layers of 2-millimeter-thick steel plates from a distance of half a mile.

Yury Borisov, formerly the deputy prime minister responsible for military development in Russia, revealed in 2022 that Russia had deployed a series of cutting-edge weapons in Ukraine. Among them were ‘Peresvet’ and another laser weapon known as ‘Zadira.’ Borisov explained that ‘Peresvet’ had the capability to “dazzle and blind” satellites in orbits as distant as 1,500 kilometers above Earth. In contrast, ‘Zadira’ was designed to “burn and melt” its intended targets. Borisov emphasized that while ‘Peresvet’ had a blinding effect, the new generation of laser weapons was capable of physically destroying their targets through thermal means. He underscored that this was not a mere exotic concept but a practical reality.

US DOD Roadmap

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is investing heavily in the development of laser-directed energy weapons (DEWs). The US military has developed a number of new laser weapons in recent years. One of the most powerful is the Boeing HELIOS (High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance). The HELIOS is a ground-based laser weapon that can produce up to 150 kilowatts of power. It is designed to be used against a variety of targets, including aircraft, missiles, and drones.

Another powerful US laser weapon is the Northrop Grumman LaWS (Laser Weapons System). The LaWS is a ship-based laser weapon that can produce up to 60 kilowatts of power. It is designed to be used against small boats and drones.

The US military is also developing a number of new laser weapons that are even more powerful than the HELIOS and LaWS. For example, the US Navy is developing a laser weapon that could produce up to 1 megawatt of power. This weapon would be powerful enough to disable enemy ships and aircraft.

The DoD’s roadmap for DEWs aims to increase the power levels of these weapons from about 150 kilowatts to 300 kilowatts by the end of fiscal year 2023, to 500 kilowatts by FY 2025, and up to megawatt levels by FY 2026.

The DoD has sought $669 million for unclassified DEWs research, development, test and evaluation, and $345 million for unclassified DEWs procurement. This funding will be used to develop new DEW technologies, improve the performance of existing DEW systems, and deploy DEWs to US military forces.

Future Prospects and Deployment

China’s LDEW capabilities continue to expand, with developments such as the installation of massive 20-megawatt generators on warships to power high-energy weapons like lasers and railguns. This significant increase in power generation enables faster response times, significant fuel savings, and enhanced maneuverability.

Additionally, China is exploring various applications for airborne tactical lasers, which could protect against incoming missile attacks and dominate in close-range combat.

Strategic Implications

China’s advancements in LDEWs have profound implications for the future of warfare:

  1. Shift in Balance of Power: The deployment of LDEWs on ground, sea, and air platforms could potentially shift the balance of power in favor of China, making it more challenging for adversaries to project force in the Asia-Pacific region.
  2. Strategic Deterrence: These technologies enhance China’s ability to deter hostile actions, including potential adversaries considering missile strikes or satellite interference.
  3. Space Dominance: The ability to disable or destroy satellites could provide China with a significant advantage in controlling the “ultimate high ground” of space, with potential consequences for global security.

It is important to note that DEWs are still in their early stages of development. There are a number of challenges that need to be overcome before DEWs can be deployed on a large scale. These challenges include developing reliable and efficient power sources, improving the accuracy and range of DEW systems, and developing effective countermeasures against DEWs.

Conclusion

China’s strides in Directed Energy Weapons, particularly Laser Directed Energy Weapons, reflect the nation’s commitment to staying at the forefront of military technology. With advancements in precision, power, and deployment capabilities, these systems have the potential to reshape the landscape of modern warfare. While enhancing national security, it is crucial for responsible international engagement and arms control efforts to maintain global stability in this new era of advanced weaponry.

 

References and resources also include:

http://www.popsci.com/china-sells-new-laser-gun

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2144756/how-chinas-military-has-zeroed-laser-technology

https://www.outsiderclub.com/china-s-top-secret-laser-project/95826

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2153310/china-brings-star-wars-life-laser-ak-47-could-set-fire

https://www.janes.com/article/84491/airshow-china-2018-casic-s-lw-30-laser-weapon-system-breaks-cover

https://www.theweek.in/theweek/current/2023/07/21/what-are-indias-top-secret-directed-energy-weapons.html

About Rajesh Uppal

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