There is such a concept - "closing technology". It is a technology (or product) that in many ways nullifies the value of technologies previously used to solve similar problems. For example, the appearance of electric bulbs has led to the almost complete rejection of candles and kerosene lamps, cars have replaced horses, and someday electric cars will replace cars with internal combustion engines.
In the field of weapons, development proceeded in a similar way: firearms weapon displaced bows and arrows, artillery replaced ballistae and catapults, armored vehicles replaced horses. Sometimes the technology "covers" another type of weapon. For example, the emergence of anti-aircraft missile systems (SAM) and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) jointly effectively buried the projects of high-speed high-altitude bombers developed in the USA and the USSR at the height of the Cold War.
Closed projects of supersonic high-altitude bombers: American B-70 Valkyrie (left) and Soviet T-4 / "Product-100" (right)
Meanwhile, progress is not standing still, rather, it is even gaining momentum. New technologies appear and improve, which then come to the battlefield. One of these technologies is directed energy weapons - laser weapons (LW). The technologies for creating lasers, which first appeared in the middle of the XNUMXth century, have now reached sufficient perfection to make laser weapons a real and integral element of the battlefield.
Speaking of laser weapons, one cannot fail to note a certain skepticism inherent in the weapons community. Some talk about the imaginary "weatherproof" of laser weapons, others about the significantly lower levels of energy that LO can transfer to targets, compared to kinetic weapons and explosives, and others about the simplicity of protection from laser weapons using smoke and silver.
These statements are only partially true. Indeed, laser weapons cannot replace missiles and shells, cannot burn through tank armor in the foreseeable future, protection from it will be created, although it is not as easy as it seems... But just as air defense systems and ICBMs "ousted" high-altitude high-speed bombers, laser weapons will completely "close" or significantly reduce the effectiveness of a number of weapons used on the ground, on water and in the air. And we are not talking about lasers with a power of megawatts and gigawatts, but about relatively low-power, but rather compact LR samples (with a power of about 5-50 kW).
American combat vehicle Stryker MEHEL, equipped with laser weapons with a power of 5-18 kW
The thing is that one of the main trends in the development of the armed forces of the leading countries of the world in recent decades has been equipping them with high-precision weapons (WTO), and one of the most effective ways to ensure "high-precision" is the use of homing heads (GOS), functioning in the optical and thermal wavelength ranges. Currently, they are counteracted by masking and / or setting up various interference: smoke, heat traps, stroboscopes and low-power laser emitters. All this, although it reduces the effectiveness of the WTO with thermal / optical seeker, but not so significant that the armed forces of the leading countries of the world refuse them. But the appearance of a relatively powerful laser weapon is quite capable of changing the situation.
Let us consider what types of weapons can significantly lose their effectiveness or even become completely unusable as a result of the widespread use of laser weapons on the battlefield.
On the ground
The use of optical seeker in armaments operating against ground targets makes it possible to hit both stationary and moving targets with high accuracy. Optical seeker has advantages in target recognition in comparison with ARLGSN (active radar homing head), operating in the radar wavelength range, which are also subject to the effects of electronic warfare (EW) systems. In turn, seeker guided by reflected laser radiation require target illumination immediately before hitting, which complicates the tactics of using such weapons and endangers the target illumination equipment carrier.
An example is the relatively widespread American anti-tank guided complex (ATGM) FGM-148 Javelin ("Javelin"), equipped with an infrared homing head (IR seeker), allowing to implement the principle of homing "fire - forget".
ATGM FGM-148 Javelin
Attacking armored vehicles in the upper, most vulnerable part of the hull, the Javelin ATGM is able to overcome most of the existing active protection systems (KAZ), but its IR seeker should be extremely vulnerable to the effects of powerful laser radiation. Thus, the introduction of armored vehicles and anti-aircraft missile systems (SAM) of short / short range into the KAZ promising small-sized lasers with a power of 5-15 kW can completely neutralize the value of this type of ATGM.
A similar situation is developing with missiles of the AGM-179 JAGM type. The difference is that the multi-mode seeker AGM-179 JAGM includes not only the IR seeker, but also the ARLGSN, as well as a semi-active laser homing head. As in the case of the Javelin ATGM, powerful laser radiation can hit the IR seeker, and, most likely, the semi-active laser homing head will be disabled, and the ARLGSN, in turn, can be suppressed by electronic warfare systems.
It can be assumed that the resistance to laser weapons of the "Gran" complex and the "Krasnopol" artillery shell, equipped with a semi-active laser homing head, will be called into question. It is quite difficult to intercept them with anti-aircraft weapons, but, having lost the seeker, they will turn into ordinary unguided ammunition with even worse characteristics than ordinary unguided mines and shells.
The Krasnopol guided artillery shell and the Gran 'guided mine equipped with semi-active laser homing heads
Another type of weapon, the survival of which will be in question, will be self-targeting combat elements (SPBE), which can be delivered by cluster bombs, cruise missiles or multiple launch rocket systems. Equipped with an IR seeker, they will also be exposed to powerful laser radiation. It is possible that parachutes providing controlled descent of SPBE will also be vulnerable to the impact of aircraft.
Self-aiming combat element
All small unmanned aerial vehicles, which are now used for reconnaissance, adjusting fire, targeting a WTO and even for delivering WTO strikes, will be under threat, provided that they have only optical detection equipment.
UAV Hermes 90 of Elbit Systems is equipped only with optical reconnaissance means
All of the above applies to other weapon systems with similar operating principles and applied technical solutions, the production of military-industrial complexes (MIC) around the world.
Where will all this lead? If missiles with multi-mode seeker continue, then the widespread use of LOs with a power of 5-50 kW may well lead to the almost complete disappearance of homing ATGMs with optical and thermal seeker, as well as other weapons of a similar type. The future of weapon systems with semi-active laser homing heads is in question. Sad prospects for SPBE and small UAVs.
Most likely, there will be a return to ATGMs and missiles of other classes, the guidance of which is carried out by wires, radio commands or along the "laser path". It is theoretically possible that ATGMs will appear in which ARLGSN will be used, but their price will be very high, which will prevent their widespread use, and exposure to electronic warfare means will reduce their effectiveness in comparison with existing solutions, with multi-mode GOS.
On the water
On the one hand, the value of optical and thermal seeker for anti-ship missiles (ASM) designed to destroy surface ships (NK) is small: most of the modern anti-ship missiles are equipped with ARLGSN, on the other hand, there is an opinion about a significant decrease in the effectiveness of anti-ship missiles with ARLGSN with active use ships of electronic warfare equipment and masking curtains.
Setting up a cloaking curtain by a surface ship and a surface ship covered by a cloaking curtain in the visible and thermal range
In this regard, the value of multi-mode seeker may increase, which will make it possible to defeat surface ships with a higher probability. However, the introduction of laser weapons could put an end to this undertaking.
Dimensions and power-to-weight ratio of surface ships allow them to be laser weapons of greater power, size and power consumption. Therefore, despite the fact that, on the whole, an anti-ship missile system for a laser is a more complex target due to its size and the effect on the laser radiation of the drive layer of the atmosphere, the probability of disabling the optical and / or infrared seeker will be quite high, which will return the anti-ship missile developers to the problem of countering surface ships through the use of electronic warfare equipment and the setting of masking curtains.
In turn, missiles equipped with only optical / IR seeker, can become completely useless in the foreseeable future.
Norwegian anti-ship missile Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is equipped only with IR seeker, which makes it a candidate for "extinction" in the event of widespread proliferation of laser weapons on surface ships
In the air
Leading countries of the world, primarily the United States, equipping aviation with defensive laser weapons is being considered. In particular, lasers with a power of 100-150 kW are planned to be installed on transport aircraft. aviation, tactical fighters F-35, combat helicopters AH-64E / F "Apache", as well as medium-sized UAVs. It is highly probable that laser weapons will be part of the promising bomber B-21 Raider, or a place will be reserved on it for the subsequent installation of the LO. How will this affect the “extinction” of weapons?
The most vulnerable are anti-aircraft guided missiles (SAM) of portable anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADS) with IR seeker. As in the case of the Javelin ATGM, they can be effectively disabled by powerful laser radiation, even without the need to destroy the SAM structure.
MANPADS with IR seeker will cease to be a threat to combat aviation
As in the case of ATGMs, other methods of targeting can be used in MANPADS: ARLGSN or guidance along the "laser path". In the first case, MANPADS will become much more expensive and more massive, and in the second, its effectiveness will decrease: the operator will need to monitor the target until it is destroyed.
The same applies to other missiles with optical / thermal guidance, for example, the 9M100 short-range missiles from the S-350 Vityaz air defense system.
SAM 9M100 with IR seeker (located under the discarded fairing)
Another candidate for screening is short-range air-to-air missiles, which are most often also equipped with IR seeker.
Short-range air-to-air missile
As we said earlier, the installation of a different type of guidance systems on these weapons either increases the cost of the listed weapon systems or reduces their characteristics.
Is it possible to protect optical / thermal seeker from powerful laser radiation? Mechanical shutters are not suitable here: their response inertia is too great. So-called optical shutters with different operating principles are considered as a solution.
One of them is the use of limiting substances with nonlinear radiation transmission. At low powers of the incident (passing through) radiation, they are transparent, and with an increase in power, their transparency exponentially deteriorates up to complete opacity. It is believed that the inertia of their actuation is also too great, and it is impossible to overcome this for fundamental reasons. In addition, they can only protect against radiation of limited power and duration of exposure due to thermal destruction of limiter devices, since the accumulation of thermal energy of absorbed laser radiation in the limiter medium during its operation is fundamentally unavoidable.
A more promising option is the use of thermo-optical shutters, in which the incident light is reflected from a thin-film mirror onto the sensitive matrix of the receiver. When laser radiation hits, the power of which exceeds the permissible threshold, it burns into the film and goes into the storage device, while the receiver remains intact. Variants are considered when the mirror layer can be restored in vacuum due to the deposition of the material previously evaporated by the laser (after the cessation of exposure to high-power laser radiation).
Images from RF patent No. 2509323 for an optical passive shutter: 1 - metal mirror film melting and evaporating under the action of radiation, 2 - transparent substrate, 3 - parabolic mirror, 4 and 5 - input and output apertures of an optical device with a shutter, 6 - region c film 1 exposed to laser heating, g is the focal length of the parabolic mirror, L is the lens
Will optical shutters save the above types of weapons from "extinction"? The question is controversial, and in many ways the answer will depend on the power of the aircraft deployed on land, sea and air platforms.
It is one thing for a second to withstand a pulse or a series of laser pulses with a power of 50-100 W, focused to a point with a diameter of 0,1 mm, another thing is the effect of continuous or quasi-continuous laser radiation with a power of 5-50 kW or more, focused into a point with a diameter of about 1 cm, within 3-5 seconds. Such a lesion area, power and duration of exposure is likely to lead to irreversible destruction of the optical shutter. Even if the sensitive element survives, the area of destruction of the reflecting mirror will not allow the formation of an image of the target with an acceptable quality, which will lead to failure of the capture.
Radiation of 10-15 kW can directly destroy ammunition bodies (albeit with insufficient efficiency), and its effect on the optical / IR seeker, most likely, will lead to its irreversible destruction: it is enough thermal effect to "lead" the attachment of optical elements, and the image is no longer will fall on the sensitive matrix.
But the United States and other developed countries are trying to ensure the power of defensive laser weapons at the level of 150 kW with the prospect of increasing it to 300-500 kW or more. However, the consequences of the appearance of laser weapons of such power are already completely different. история.
Compact laser weapons with a power of 5-50 kW or more can have a significant impact on the appearance of promising weapons and the battlefield as a whole. Laser weapons will not be able to replace "classical" weapons, but, by complementing defensive and offensive systems, lead to a significant decrease in efficiency or even the rejection of a significant number of existing weapons models using homing heads in the optical and / or thermal wavelength ranges, which, in its turn, will lead to the emergence of new types of weapons and a change in the tactics of armed struggle.