High-energy laser weapons on upgraded Virginia nuclear submarines
In the open budget documents of the US Armed Forces published information that the modernized nuclear submarines (submarines) class "Virginia" is planned to place a high-energy laser weapons. The initial laser power should be 300 kilowatts (with a subsequent increase to 500 kilowatts). A 30-megawatt nuclear submarine reactor will provide power to the laser. Presumably, laser tests for nuclear submarines powered by an external energy source (not from the onboard submarine network) are already being conducted.
The laser must be integrated into the non-penetrating periscope of the submarine. It can be assumed that the laser emitter itself will be placed in a durable case, and the output of laser radiation will be through optical fiber, in this case only the focusing and beam guidance device will be placed on the mast.
On the other hand, the USA has made great progress in miniaturization of high-power lasers - Apache and UAV combat helicopters are supposed to be equipped with a laser with a power of 30-50 kW, and F-100 tactical fighter planes with a power of 300-35 kW, it must be taken into account that the laser design A powerful power supply should be integrated, which the submarine has by default. In this embodiment, the laser emitter can be integrated directly into the non-penetrating telescopic mast.
Laser weapons become compact enough to be deployed on military helicopters and tactical aircraft aviation
Laser on a submarine? It would seem absurd. After all, seawater is practically impervious to laser radiation. Even the surface layer of the atmosphere has an extremely negative effect on laser radiation due to aerosol-salt fog.
But a combat laser on a nuclear submarine is not intended for firing at submarines. Its main task is to ensure air defense of the nuclear submarines. In the article “On the border of two environments. The evolution of promising submarines in conditions of increased probability of their detection by the enemy " We examined the importance of integrating anti-aircraft missile systems (SAM) into the submarines of the Russian naval fleet.
Submarine equipment was considered by a number of countries, for example, France.
For the United States, equipping submarines with air defense systems has always been a secondary concern. During the years of the power of the USSR, the creation of submarine air defense systems (submarine air defense systems) was an extremely difficult task due to the lack of active radar homing heads (ARLGSN) and the low efficiency of infrared homing heads (IKGSN), and after the collapse of the USSR, the fleet and US aviation began to dominate the world the ocean, being able to provide nuclear submarine defense virtually anywhere in the world’s oceans.
But everything is changing. And if the Russian Navy does not yet pose a global threat to the US Navy, then the threat from the rapidly growing Chinese Navy can no longer be ignored. At present, China lags far behind the leading world powers, both in terms of creating modern submarines and in organizing effective anti-submarine defense. But in view of the ability of the PRC industry to mass production of military equipment, it is likely that if they receive one way or another (espionage, purchase, progress in their own developments, access to critical technologies) there will be no problems with mass production and in the shortest possible time the Chinese Navy can acquire a large and modern aviation anti-submarine defense (PLO).
But why is the US Navy a laser? Technologically, it will certainly be easier to create an anti-aircraft missile system, especially since such work has already been carried out both in the USA and in NATO countries. Firstly, it is possible that work is underway to create SAM submarines in the United States. Secondly, in comparison with SAM, laser weapons have a number of advantages:
- the air defense system’s ammunition is limited, and for its deployment it is necessary to reduce the nuclear strike potential, while taking into account the laser power from the nuclear submarine reactor, the laser ammunition can be considered conditionally unlimited;
- the launch of an anti-aircraft guided missile (SAM) from under water in any case unmasks the submarine - both at the time of launch of the missile and during its flight, and the laser radiation propagates “instantly” - the target has practically no reaction time;
- to provide protection against laser radiation (LI) is much more difficult than from SAM, which can be brought down by a laser defensive system, rejected by electronic warfare (EW) or false targets. To protect against LI, you will have to redo the entire structure of the aircraft or the PLO helicopter, remove the weapons inside, close the sensors and pilots.
The optoelectronic periscope of a Virginia-type submarine is capable of acquiring a circular image of the surrounding space in a few seconds, and if a target is detected, point a laser weapon at it. Depending on the weather conditions, the range to the target and its maneuverability, the time for hitting planes and helicopters of aviation by a PLO laser with a power of 300-500 kW will be about 15-30 seconds, which does not give the enemy time to strike back.
Virginia Non-Penetrating Optoelectronic Mast
Disadvantages and advantages of placing laser weapons on submarines
The disadvantages of laser weapons include the impossibility of firing laser "from closed positions" - the target should be within line of sight. In some situations, the target can sharply drop altitude and hide from laser radiation beyond the horizon. However, this drawback also cannot be considered critical. If the target was initially below the horizon, then guidance on it missiles is impossible without external target designation. If the target was originally on the line of sight, then it is unlikely that it will have time for a sharp change in altitude.
The regular patrol height of the Boeing P-8 Poseidon is 60 meters above sea level at a speed of 333 km / h. At such a height, it will be in the zone of visibility of the periscope, extended to a height of 1 meter, and therefore in the laser damage zone, at a distance of about 30 kilometers. Raising the mast by 2 meters, we will increase the review to 60 kilometers.
Max Laser Range
Also, a drawback of the laser as a weapon can be considered a decrease in its efficiency in bad weather conditions. This is especially true due to the fact that aircraft PLO operates at low altitudes, weakening the effect of the laser beam. But here we must take into account that this influence is not as great as it seems.
Propagation of laser radiation at operational distances (excerpts from the article by A. S. Boreisho “Powerful mobile chemical lasers”)
During testing in the United States of the Boeing YAL-1 airborne laser complex with a laser power of about 1 MW, training targets were defeated at a range of about 250 km. Based on this, it can be assumed that for a laser with a power of 300-500 kW, the range of destruction will be about 80-120 kilometers. Accordingly, even with a decrease in the LI power by half due to the influence of the surface layer of the atmosphere, the estimated range should be about 40-60 kilometers. In reality, the range of destruction will be limited more likely by the means of target detection than laser weapons.
Placing laser weapons on a nuclear submarine has its own advantages. Firstly, it is an unlimited source of energy. The nuclear submarine reactor is capable of providing all the energy needs of high-power lasers. Secondly, it is an opportunity to provide effective cooling with sea water. Of course, an additional thermal trail can unmask the nuclear submarines at the time of laser weapon operation, but given the short duration of the laser, this is not critical. And the thermal emission from the operation of the laser cannot be compared with the volumes of heat removed from the reactor. Thirdly, this is the space for placing laser weapons. Despite the tight layout, in the submarine you can clearly find more space than in tactical aircraft.
Thus, the United States may be the first to provide its submarines with unique capabilities to counter enemy aircraft. And this is despite the fact that the US Navy is already the strongest in the world, surpassing the capabilities of the Navy / Navy of all other countries of the world combined.
Recalling the capabilities of US anti-aircraft missile defense and the previously discussed possibility of installing an air defense system for advanced and modernized Russian submarines, one may ask: is it necessary to use laser weapons on submarines of the Russian Navy and are there any opportunities for its development and production?
"Relight" on the "Like"
As we have already discussed in a series of articles on laser weapons (parts 1, 2, 3, 4), in Russia there are certain problems with the creation of modern powerful and compact lasers, primarily solid-state, fiber, and liquid ones.
Of course, you can rely on secret developments, but the reality is that high-power lasers are extremely popular in industry, where their significance is still much higher than in military affairs, and this is a huge market that brings huge profit to laser manufacturers. If some of the Russian companies had the opportunity to create powerful compact lasers, they would certainly have been proposed for industrial use, and it would have been foolish not to do this, since the profit from the sale allows you to move on and develop. But the Russian market is densely occupied by foreign manufacturers: IPG Photonics, ROFIN-SINAR Technologies and others.
On the other hand, in Russia the Peresvet combat laser complex (BLK) was adopted. On "Relight" there are many questions, ranging from its performance characteristics. It would be extremely interesting to know at least the radiation power, its wavelength and the type of laser installed. What is characteristic, this information in itself is not critical from the point of view of secrecy: the United States itself quietly publishes information on the types of combat lasers being developed (solid-state, fiber, on free electrons), as well as their predicted power. By itself, this information does not give the enemy almost anything, because copying requires blueprints, technical processes, and more. Excessive closeness indicates either technology backwardness, as in the case of Iran and North Korea, or the implementation of a breakthrough direction, as was the case with the creation of nuclear weapons or stealth low-visibility technology.
Look the most real two options for the implementation of BLK "Peresvet". In a pessimistic version, the Peresvet BLK is based on an obsolete type of chemical and gas-dynamic lasers. In this case, there can be no talk of any placement on the submarine.
In an optimistic version, the Peresvet BLK can be implemented on the basis of a nuclear-pumped laser. This is an advanced technology that has every reason to be secret, while its application for industrial purposes is complicated by the use of radioactive fissile materials as a pump source. Can the Peresvet BLK in this case be adapted for deployment on a submarine?
First of all, you need to pay attention to the dimensions of the complex - to place it on the mast of the periscope just will not work. Excluded placement on non-nuclear and diesel submarines (NAPL / DEPL). On multipurpose nuclear submarines (ICAPL), most likely, it will be necessary to embed an additional compartment, which will significantly increase their cost, but in fact we have very few multipurpose nuclear submarines, and they are very expensive. This applies both to existing submarines that can be modernized, and to promising multi-purpose submarines of the Laika type of the Husky project, the displacement of which is expected to be less than the displacement of the nuclear submarines of projects 945, 971 and 885 (M).
Probably, the volumes required for deployment of the Peresvet BLK are present in the strategic missile cruisers (SSBNs) of the Borey project 955A, even if for this we would have to give up 2-4 ballistic missiles. In return, we would have gained increased stability of the SSBN against enemy anti-submarine aircraft.
The possibility of placing laser weapons in combination with SAM air defense systems on the upgraded SSBN project 955A "Borey" was previously considered by the author in the article “Atomic multifunctional submarine cruiser: an asymmetrical response to the West”.
The advantages of deploying Peresvet BLK on nuclear submarines include the availability of competent specialists on nuclear submarines who can work with radiation-hazardous equipment, which is Peresvet BLK, if it is implemented on the basis of a nuclear-pumped laser. Well, one should not forget about the possibility of effective cooling of BLK with seawater.
Laser weapons in the XNUMXst century go from the pages of science fiction novels to the real world. Leading countries of the world consider laser weapons as one of the most important tools on the battlefield of the near future. In addition to traditional carriers of laser weapons, such as airplanes, surface ships and ground platforms, even exotic platforms for lasers such as submarines are considered as carriers. And the use of combat lasers in submarines can give them completely new opportunities to counter aircraft PLO.
Most likely, the United States possesses all critical technologies for implementing a project to deploy laser weapons on nuclear submarines of various classes. Moreover, in Russia there is only one implemented complex of laser weapons - BLK "Peresvet", the type and characteristics of which are not thoroughly known.
Based on the assumption that the Peresvet BLK is based on a nuclear-pumped laser, and its dimensions on photo and video images, we must conclude that you can place the Peresvet BLK without a significant design change only on the Borey project 955A RPKSN, but even this possibility can be called into question, and it is possible that at the current stage it is better to focus on the development of anti-aircraft missile systems capable of counteracting anti-aircraft missile defense to all types of Russian modernized and promising nuclear submarines and nuclear submarines / diesel-electric submarines.
However, laser weapons alone can become one of the cornerstones on which the power of the armed forces of the near future will be based. It is extremely important for Russia to restore the development and production of modern solid-state, fiber and other types of lasers, scalable in power and size, which can be widely used both in industry and military purposes.