No less changes can occur within the framework of one type of weapon, as its characteristics change. For example, on the example of a manned aviation You can see how the design of aircraft and their weapons changed, and in accordance with this the tactics of air war changed. Skirmishes of pilots from the personal weapons of the pilots of the first wooden biplanes gave way to fierce maneuverable air battles of the Second World War. In the Vietnam War, the use of air-to-air (V-B) guided missiles began, and at the moment, long-range aerial combat using guided missile weapons is considered to be the main method of air combat.
The evolution of combat aircraft over 100 years
Weapons on new physical principles
One of the most important areas of arms development in the 21st century can be considered the creation of weapons based on new physical principles (NFP). Despite the skepticism with which many perceive weapons at the NFP, its appearance can radically change the face of the armed forces of the near future. Speaking about weapons at the NFP, they primarily mean laser weapons (LO) and kinetic weapons with electric / electromagnetic acceleration of the projectile.
Leading world powers are investing heavily in the development of laser and kinetic weapons. The leaders in the number of ongoing projects are countries such as the USA, Germany, Israel, China, Turkey. The political-geographical spread of the developments does not allow us to suggest a “conspiracy”, with the aim of taking the enemy (Russia) to a deliberately deadlock direction of arms development. To carry out work, in particular, on the creation of laser weapons, the largest defense concerns were involved: the American Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Atomic and General Dynamics, the German Rheinmetall AG and MBDA, and many others.
When talking about laser weapons, they often recall the negative experience gained in the 20th century in the framework of Soviet and American programs for creating combat lasers. Here we must take into account the key difference - the lasers of that period, capable of providing sufficient power to hit targets, were either chemical or gas-dynamic, which led to their significant size, the presence of combustible and toxic components, inconvenience of operation, and low efficiency. The rejection of armament of military models according to the results of those tests was perceived by many as the final collapse of the idea of laser weapons.
In the 21st century, the emphasis shifted to the creation of fiber and solid-state lasers, which were widely used in industry. At the same time, target guidance and tracking technologies have significantly advanced, new optical schemes and packet combining of the rays of several laser blocks into a single beam using diffraction gratings have been implemented. All this made the appearance of laser weapons a close reality.
1980's MIRACL chemical laser and Rheinmetall's latest fiber combat laser
At the moment, we can assume that the receipt of serial laser weapons in the armed forces of the leading countries of the world has already begun. At the beginning of 2019 year Rheinmetall AG Announces Successful Testing of 100 kW Combat Laser, which can be integrated into the MANTIS air defense system of the Bundeswehr armed forces. US Army Signs Northrop Grumman and Raytheon on creation of a 50 kW laser weapon for equipping Stryker combat vehicles converted for short-range air defense mission (M-SHORAD). But the biggest surprise was the Turks, using a ground-based laser system to destroy a combat unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) during real hostilities in Libya.
Chinese reconnaissance and strike UAV, shot down by a Turkish combat laser in Libya
At the moment, most of the laser weapons are being developed for use from land and sea platforms, which is understandable by the smaller requirements imposed on the developers of laser weapons in terms of weight and size characteristics and energy consumption. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that laser weapons will have the greatest impact on the appearance and tactics of using military aircraft.
Laser weapons on combat aircraft
The ability to effectively use laser weapons in combat aircraft is due to the following factors:
- high atmospheric permeability for laser radiation, increasing with increasing altitude;
- potentially vulnerable targets in the form of air-to-air missiles, especially with optical and thermal homing heads;
- weight and size restrictions imposed on the anti-laser protection of aircraft and aircraft ammunition.
At the moment, the United States is most active in equipping military aircraft with laser weapons. One of the most likely candidates for the installation of LO is a fifth-generation aircraft F-35B. During installation, a lifting fan is dismantled, providing the F-35B with vertical take-off and landing. Instead, a complex should be installed, including an electric generator driven by a jet engine shaft, a cooling system and a laser weapon with a beam guidance and retention system. The estimated power should be from 100 kW at the initial stage, followed by a phased increase to 300 kW and up to 500 kW. Taking into account the emerging progress in the creation of laser weapons, one can expect the first results after the 2025 year and the appearance of serial samples with a 300 kW laser and more after the 2030 year.
F-35B with integrated laser weapon system
Another model under development is Lockheed Martin's SHiELD system for equipping F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters. Ground tests of the SHiELD complex successfully passed at the beginning of the 2019 yearAir tests are planned for the 2021 year; Admission to service is planned after the 2025 year.
In addition to creating laser weapons, the development of compact power supplies is equally important. In this direction, work is also actively ongoing, for example, in May 2019, a British company Rolls-Royce Demonstrates Compact Hybrid Powerplant for Combat Lasers.
Thus, it is highly likely that in the coming decades, laser weapons will occupy their niche in the arsenal of military aircraft. What tasks will it solve in this capacity?
The use of laser weapons in combat aircraft
The main declared objective of laser weapons aboard combat aircraft should be the interception of attacking enemy missiles of the air-to-air and land-air type (Z-V). At the moment, the possibility of intercepting uncontrolled mortar mines and rockets of multiple launch rocket systems with lasers with power from 30 kW (the value from 100 kW is considered optimal) at a distance of several kilometers has been confirmed. Laser and optical jamming systems have already been put into service and are actively operating, providing temporary blinding of the sensitive optical heads of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).
The main objective of laser weapons is to intercept attacking missiles V-V and Z-V
Thus, the appearance of on-board laser weapons with power from 100 kW and above will protect the aircraft from V-V and Z-V missiles with optical and thermal homing heads, i.e. MANPADS and short-range missiles. Moreover, such missiles are likely to be affected at a distance of five kilometers or more in a short period of time. At the moment, the presence of short-range all-angle B-B missiles is considered one of the reasons for the lack of the need for maneuverable close combat, since the combination of transparent armor technology and advanced guidance systems allows missile armament without a significant change in the position of the aircraft in space. The limited weight and size characteristics of V-V and MANPADS missiles will make it difficult to install effective anti-laser protection on them.
Short-range B-B missiles and MANPADS may become the first “victims” of aviation laser weapons
The next candidates for defeat by laser weapons will be missiles B-B and Z-B long and medium-range, which use active radar homing (ARLGSN). First of all, the question arises of creating a radio-transparent protective material that protects the ARLGSN canvas. In addition, the processes that will occur when the head fairing is irradiated with laser radiation require a separate study. It is possible that the resulting heating products will impede the passage of radar radiation and disrupt the capture of the target. If a solution to this problem is not found, then you will have to return to the radio command guidance of the V-V and Z-V missiles directly by airplane or anti-aircraft missile system (SAM). And this again brings us back to the problem of a limited number of channels for simultaneously guiding missiles and the need to maintain the course of the aircraft until the target is hit by missiles.
With an increase in the laser radiation power, not only elements of the homing system can be damaged, but also other structural elements of the V-V and Z-V missiles, which will require equipping them with anti-laser protection. The use of anti-laser protection will increase the size and weight, significantly reduce the characteristics of the range, speed and maneuverability of missiles V-V and Z-V. In addition to the deterioration of performance characteristics (TTX), making it difficult to hit the target, missiles with anti-laser protection will be more vulnerable to highly maneuverable anti-missile missiles such as CUDA, which will not require protection from laser radiation.
Small-sized highly maneuverable B-B CUDA missiles
Thus, the appearance of laser weapons on combat aircraft is to some extent a one-goal game. To protect the V-V and Z-V missiles from laser damage, they will need to be equipped with anti-laser protection, increase the flight speed to hypersonic to minimize the time spent in the laser radiation zone and, possibly, give up homing heads. At the same time, the ammunition of larger and more massive B-B and 3-B missiles will decrease, and they themselves will be more susceptible to interception by small-sized, highly maneuverable CUDA-type missiles.
The limited ammunition capacity of fifth-generation aircraft, which is especially evident due to the increase in size and mass of B-B missiles, combined with a high probability of interception by a laser or anti-missile, can lead to the fact that warring combat aircraft with laser weapons on board will reach melee range , weapons for which are even more vulnerable to laser weapons.
Laser weapons and close air combat (BVB)
Suppose that two combat aircraft, having shot their stock of guided V-V missiles, reached a range of 10-15 km relative to each other. In this case, a laser weapon with a power of 300-500 kW can directly affect an enemy aircraft. Modern guidance systems at such a range are quite capable of accurately targeting the laser beam at vulnerable elements of the enemy’s aircraft — the cockpit, reconnaissance equipment, engines, and controls. At the same time, on-board electronic equipment, based on the optical and radar signature of a particular aircraft, can independently select vulnerable points and direct a laser beam at them.
Given the high reaction rate that laser weapons can provide, as a result of a clash using short-range LOs, both aircraft of a traditional design are likely to be damaged or destroyed, both pilots will be killed first.
One solution could be the development of compact high-speed short-range ammunition with radio command guidance, capable of overcoming the protection provided by laser weapons due to the high flight speed and volley density. Just as several modern anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) are required to destroy one modern tank equipped with an active defense complex (KAZ), simultaneous salvo of a certain number of small-sized melee missiles may be required to destroy one enemy aircraft with laser weapons.
The end of the "invisible" era
Speaking about the military aviation of the future, one cannot fail to mention the promising radio-optical phased array antenna (ROFAR), which should become the basis of military aviation intelligence. While details about all the possibilities of this technology are unknown, the potential appearance of ROFAR will put an end to all existing technologies for reducing visibility. In the event that difficulties arise with ROFAR, advanced aircraft will use advanced models of radar stations with active phased array antennas (radar with AFAR), which, in combination with the intensive use of electronic warfare technologies, can also significantly reduce the effectiveness of the stealth technology.
Based on the foregoing, it can be assumed that in the event of the appearance of an enemy aircraft with laser weapons in the arsenal of the Air Force, the use of aircraft with a large number of weapons on an external load will be an effective solution. A certain “rollback” to the 4 + / 4 ++ generation will take place and the deeply modernized Su-35С, Eurofighter Typhoon or F-15X may become actual models. For example, the Su-35C can carry weapons at twelve points of suspension, the Eurofighter Typhoon has thirteen points of suspension, and the upgraded F-15X can carry up to twenty V-B missiles.
4 + / 4 ++ generation fighters - Su-35С, Eurofighter Typhoon and F-15X
The latest Russian multifunctional Su-57 fighter has slightly less capabilities. On external and internal suspensions of the Su-57, a total of up to twelve V-B missiles can be located. It is likely that suspension units could be developed for Russian fighters, which, by analogy with the F-15X fighter, can accommodate several ammunition on one unit, which will increase the ammunition load of C-35С and Su-57 fighters to 18-22 V-B missiles .
Multifunctional fifth-generation fighter Su-57
Getting close to an aircraft equipped with laser weapons can be extremely dangerous due to the high reaction rate of LO. In the event that this happens, it is necessary to maximize the probability of defeating the enemy in a minimum period. As one of the possible solutions can be considered 30 mm fast-firing automatic aircraft guns with guided projectiles.
MAD-FIRES guided projectiles are planned to be implemented in calibers up to 20 mm
The presence of guided missiles will allow you to attack an enemy aircraft from a greater distance than is possible with unguided munitions. At the same time, interception of 30-40-caliber shells with a mm laser can be difficult due to their small size and the large number of ammunition in the queue (15-30 shells).
As mentioned earlier, laser weapons are primarily a threat to missiles with optical and thermal seekers, and possibly to missiles with ARLGS. This will affect the nature of the weapons used by combat aircraft to counter enemy aircraft with LO. The main armament intended for hitting aircraft with aircraft should be V-B remote-controlled missiles with protection against laser radiation. In this case, the radar capabilities for simultaneously guiding several V-V missiles at the target will be of particular importance.
Equally important is the equipping of V-V and Z-V rockets with ramjet engines. This will not only provide the rocket with the energy necessary for maneuvering at maximum range, but will also reduce the time of the LO impact due to the high speed of the rocket at the end of the flight. In addition, high-speed B-B missiles will be a more difficult target for CUDA-type missiles.
Long-range air-to-air guided missile MBDA Meteor, equipped with ARGSN and march ramjet engine
And finally, a small part of the fighter’s ammunition should be small-sized anti-missiles, deployed several units at one suspension point, capable of intercepting the enemy’s V-B and Z-V missiles.
1. The advent of laser weapons on combat aircraft, especially in combination with small-sized anti-missiles, will require an increase in the carrying capacity of V-B missiles for combat aircraft. Since the capacity of the internal compartments of fifth-generation aircraft is limited, the placement of missiles on the external suspension will be required, which will extremely negatively affect stealth. This may mean a certain “renaissance” of 4 + / 4 ++ generation aircraft.
2. Laser weapons will pose an exceptional danger in close combat, therefore, in the event of an unsuccessful attack from long and medium ranges, pilots will avoid close combat with aircraft equipped with aircraft, if possible.
3. The ability to confront the 4 + / 4 ++ / 5 generation combat aircraft with a large number of B-B missiles and an inconspicuous 5 generation aircraft with laser weapons on board is determined by the performance of the airborne and intercept missiles to intercept V-B missiles. Starting from a certain moment, the tactics of using massive launches of B-B missiles on aircraft equipped with airborne and anti-missile systems may become inoperative, which will require a rethinking of the concept of multifunctional combat aircraft, which we will consider in the following article.