What effect will the serial introduction of laser weapons have on the appearance of combat aircraft? One of the stated requirements for sixth generation aircraft is optional maneuverability, that is, the ability to operate an aircraft with or without a pilot. The possibility of creating artificial intelligence capable of making complex decisions in battle raises many more questions than the prospects of creating laser weapons, rail guns and hypersonic aircraft combined, but as for the cockpit, it is likely to undergo drastic changes.
The presence of laser weapons in the enemy will require you to hide the pilot inside the aircraft body, without the use of transparent structures. Piloting will be carried out using transparent armor technology.
There should not be any problems with the implementation of this technology, given that in fact it is already being used on F-35 family fighters and, apparently, it will actively develop in the future. In addition to the United States, work on the creation of “transparent armor” is underway in the UK, Israel, Russia and other countries.
Helmet Pilot F-35
2. Reconnaissance and guidance
Due to the lack of a transparent cabin and the high probability of damage to optical reconnaissance equipment by laser weapons, they will need to be redundantly backed up, separated to different points of the hull and provided with protection in the form of high-speed curtains that instantly close when laser radiation enters, or other means of physical protection of sensitive optics.
The basis of intelligence by 2050 year, most likely, will be a radio-optical phased array antenna (ROFAR). While details about all the possibilities of this technology are unknown, it is possible that the potential emergence of ROFAR will put an end to all existing technologies for reducing visibility. If difficulties arise with ROFAR, then advanced airplanes with active phased antenna arrays (radar with AFAR) will be used on promising aircraft.
The need to achieve cruising supersonic speed, reduce visibility and protect weapons from being hit by laser weapons will require its placement in the internal compartments.
Modern aircraft have an exceptionally tight layout. This negatively affects the convenience of their subsequent modernization and limits ammunition. This is especially noticeable on the example of fighters made with internal arms compartments. At the other end of the “scale”, you can put the American B-52 bomber, which, due to its excess strength and construction volume, has been successfully upgraded for more than half a century, and is likely to outlive its ultra-expensive stealth brothers. In the situation with laser weapons, a superdense layout can become an additional source of problems, which will require an increase in the size of a promising combat aircraft.
Internal weapons bays of modern multi-functional fighters
4. Anti-laser protection
Contrary to the belief that it is possible to protect yourself from laser radiation with a usual silverfish, to protect against powerful radiation you will need to use a special casing that includes several layers.
For example, it can be an outer layer with high thermal conductivity, able to “smear” the thermal effect of the laser along the body, while retaining its properties during high-temperature heating, and an inner layer that provides thermal insulation of internal volumes.
It should be borne in mind that such a coating should be resistant to long-term operation in various climatic conditions, to withstand overloads arising in flight, cyclic thermal and vibration loads. The creation of such protection is a complex scientific and technical task that will be updated as the power of laser weapons grows. It can be assumed that its thickness will be on the order of or more than a centimeter, which, taking into account the size of the aircraft and the need for its fastening, will add mass to the entire structure of the airframe.
Poor coverage can create a lot of problems when operating an aircraft
5. Laser weapon
Based on the rate of development of the LO, it can be assumed that, depending on the size of the aircraft, 2050-1 laser power of 2-300 kW can be installed on it by the 500 year, with the possibility of outputting radiation in the lower and upper plane of the aircraft, which will allow for almost circular affected area.
Most likely, these will be infrared fiber lasers, with a combination of power from several emitters. Implementation of guidance will include aiming with the gaze of the pilot and automated algorithms for selecting vulnerable points of the target.
6. Power sources for laser weapons and other on-board systems
The supply of lasers with electric energy will most likely be ensured by the removal of energy from the shafts of rotation of gas turbine engines.
In itself, the technology for part power removal is implemented in the F-35B vertical take-off and landing fighter to ensure the operation of the lifting fan. As mentioned in the previous article, it is in this way that the F-35 version with laser weapons can be built. The reduction in range and carrying capacity in this case is offset by the exceptional capabilities provided by the presence of laser weapons on board.
F-35B engine with power take-off for lift fan
As part of the ASuMED program, Germany has created a prototype of a fully superconducting synchronous aircraft engine with an output of 1 megawatts and a power density of 20 kilowatts per kilogram. Considering the reversibility of synchronous electric machines, compact electric generators can be created on the basis of this technology for powering laser weapons with minimum dimensions and high efficiency.
Prototype Superconducting Synchronous Aircraft Engine
7. Weight and size characteristics
The need to install laser weapons, power generators for it, the presence of large-sized weapon compartments and a massive anti-laser coating will lead to an increase in the size and take-off mass of promising combat aircraft.
In general, one cannot fail to notice the current trend of increasing size and mass of combat aircraft. For example, the mass of the F-35 is one and a half times the mass of its predecessor F-16, a similar situation exists with the F-15 and F-22 fighters. It can be assumed that the take-off mass of the promising multi-functional fighter 2050 of the year can range from 50 to 100 tons, which is comparable to that of the Tu-128 barrage interceptor, the unrealized MiG-7.01 multi-purpose long-range interceptor project or the Tu-22XX bomber-bomber. An increase in the mass and size of promising combat aircraft will lead to a decrease in their maneuverability. However, taking into account the presence of laser weapons and highly maneuverable anti-ballistic missiles, the own maneuverability of promising combat aircraft will no longer be significant.
Tu-128 interceptor, project of the MiG-7.01 multifunctional long-range interceptor, Tu-22М3 missile bomber
With high probability, it can be argued that the promising aircraft will be twin-engine. The total thrust of the engines should provide flight at supersonic speed without the use of afterburner.
In the power take-off mode for powering a laser weapon, the flight characteristics of the aircraft will decrease. By 2050, technical problems will probably be solved and pulsed aircraft-jet engines (PuVRD) or rotational detonation engines will begin to be put on airplanes. It is possible that on some types of promising aircraft engines it will not be possible to realize direct power take-off for powering laser weapons, which will require the installation of a separate generator with a compact gas turbine engine for this purpose.
From time to time, information arises about the implementation of the possibility of flying at hypersonic speeds on sixth generation aircraft. Of course, at the turn of the 2050 of the year, hypersonic aircraft can be implemented, but currently all the projects of promising bombers are executed in a subsonic version, not all countries manage to implement even stable cruising flights of fighter aircraft at supersonic speeds, and all projects of hypersonic aircraft significant technical difficulties. Thus, while hypersonic aircraft have not really been worked out even in the form of disposable missiles and warheads, it is difficult to talk about hypersonic flight speeds for promising manned combat aircraft.
9. Aerodynamic design
The layout of a promising combat aircraft will be optimized based on the need to install anti-laser protection and maintain a high cruising supersonic speed. In the event that at the turn of the 2050 years success is achieved in creating hypersonic aircraft, this will be a determining factor in choosing the layout of the aircraft.
Based on existing trends, we can assume the rejection of vertical plumage, the absence of front horizontal plumage (PGO). At the moment, this is primarily associated with the implementation of stealth technologies, but in the future, protection against thermal loads resulting from the high speed of flight and irradiation with laser weapons may become a determining factor.
Like the weapons of warships, the weapons of promising aviation complexes will include defensive and offensive systems. As an offensive weapon, to destroy enemy aircraft at long and medium ranges, B-B hypersonic missiles equipped with anti-laser protection will be used. If it is not possible to protect the missile’s radar from the damaging factors of laser radiation, then the missiles will be guided by the carrier via a secure radio channel or along the “laser path”.
As defensive weapons, small-sized highly maneuverable anti-missiles will be used. They can also be used in close air combat against enemy aircraft. Laser weapons will be used in a similar way - priority for hitting enemy attacking missiles, or for hitting enemy aircraft at close range.
At the turn of the 2050, the question may arise of equipping aircraft systems with another type of weapon based on new physical principles - a rail gun (RP). Currently, rail guns are considered as an element of armament of surface ships. It was originally planned that they would be armed with the latest American destroyers such as Zumwalt, but the technical difficulties that had arisen delayed the introduction of these weapons. Nevertheless, tests of rail guns are actively conducted in many countries of the world, including the USA, Turkey and China. In June of the 2019, the EMRG rail gun developed in the interests of the US Navy was successfully tested. In the near future it is planned to conduct tests directly on the ships of the US Navy.
Rail gun EMRG
Unlike ships that require a large 155 mm caliber and firing range of the order of 400-500 kilometers, on combat aircraft the rail gun caliber can be significantly reduced and amount to about 30-40 mm. Shooting should be carried out by projectiles controlled by the "laser path" technology over a range of about 100-200 km. Such a weapon will allow hitting enemy aircraft protected by laser weapons, since the high speed and small size of the rail gun shell will make it difficult to detect and destroy it. The presence of the control system in the projectile for RP is not due to the need to defeat highly maneuverable targets, but to the need to compensate for the deviation of the RP axis when firing, to compensate for atmospheric conditions and the possibility of changing the course of the target within the order of 5-15 degrees.
The rail gun can be placed along the axis of the aircraft, to obtain the maximum length of the booster section of the barrel. A separate question arises regarding the energy storage for such weapons, since even the power of the 1-2 MW generators providing power to the laser weapons is most likely not enough to power the rail gun. You must understand that the rail gun is technologically more complex, even compared to laser weapons. If the appearance of RP on ships is almost beyond doubt, then its adaptation for aircraft carriers can be quite complicated.
Speaking about the combat aircraft of the future, one cannot fail to mention two promising projects. First of all, it is a promising American strategic bomber B-21 Raider. Its predecessor, the B-2 bomber, which is being developed in complete secrecy, brought to the world of aviation a record low effective dispersion area (EPR) for such a huge machine. It is possible that the B-21 that is being developed to replace it will also contain any breakthrough solutions. For example, it can be equipped with defensive laser weapons and the ability to destroy enemy aircraft using a powerful airborne radar with AFAR and long-range V-V missiles. If these capabilities are realized, the B-21 Raider will conceptually be close to the appearance of a promising combat aircraft, discussed in this article (defensive aircraft, large ammunition).
In Russia, the development of the ideological successor of the MiG-31, a promising long-range interception aircraft complex (PAK DP), is periodically discussed in Russia. The non-existent car on the Internet is called the MiG-41. At the moment, the appearance of PAK DP is not finally formed. It is assumed that this will be a heavy vehicle with a flight speed in excess of 3500 km / h and a flight range of the order of 7000 km. According to other sources, the maximum speed can be 4-4,5 M, that is, 5000-5500 km / h. It is possible that, taking into account the predicted development time for the PAK DP - 2025-2030 years, its design will take into account potential threats emanating from laser weapons deployed on enemy aircraft.
One of the many PAK DA concepts
Predicting the appearance of a combat aviation complex for such a long time is quite difficult. Is it possible in 1920 to reliably predict the appearance of the MiG-15 or MiG-17 based on the appearance of wooden biplanes? What are jet engines, radars, guided weapons? Only a screw, a machine gun, binoculars! Or to predict in the 1945 year the appearance of MiG-30 / F-25 machines that appeared after about 15 years?
The complexity of forecasting is associated both with high technical risks that accompany the development of fundamentally new technologies, such as a laser weapon, a rail gun or a detonation engine, and with the unpredictable appearance of completely new technologies that can radically change the face of promising aviation systems.
The alleged appearance of the 2050 combat aviation complex of the year is formed on the basis of extrapolating the capabilities of existing technologies that are currently at the initial stage of their development.
A factor that largely determines the appearance of the promising aviation complex of the 2050 of the year is the development of laser weapons. The logical chain in the formation of the appearance of a promising aviation complex is approximately the following:
- the advent of 100-300 kW lasers on existing fifth-generation fighters, in combination with small-sized CUDA-type missiles (2025-2035 years);
- training and / or real air battles of aircraft equipped with aircraft;
- the inevitability of the BVB as a consequence of the small ammunition of fifth-generation aircraft in combination with effective interception of V-V LO missiles and anti-missiles;
- high probability of mutual defeat of aircraft LO in the BVB;
- the need for shelter in a closed cockpit and redundancy of sensors;
- the need for anti-laser protection of aircraft and weapons;
- the need to increase ammunition;
- the growth of dimensions and mass of the aircraft.
As in any “sword and shield” confrontation, the appearance of promising combat aircraft will be determined by the rapid development of either laser weapons or means of defense against it. In the event that the capabilities of laser weapons outstrip the capabilities of defenses against it (coatings, skin), the appearance of promising combat aircraft will shift to that considered in this article. In the opposite version, the appearance of promising combat aircraft will be closer to existing concepts regarding relatively compact and maneuverable aircraft.