Laser weapons may soon debut aboard Russian air force jets. The Russian defense industry says that it is developing laser systems that pilots of its “sixth-generation” fighter jets could use to zap oncoming anti-aircraft missiles before they have a chance to strike their planes.
Missiles typically have internal targeting systems that use radar or heat-seeking sensors to lock in on their targets. The lasers would destroy these missiles’ targeting systems and render them unable to locate their targets.
“We are talking about developments in the field of powered lasers that will be able to physically destroy attacking missiles’ homing heads,” Vladimir Mikheyevm adviser to the First Deputy CEO of Radio-Electronic Technologies Group (KRET), told Russian state news agency TASS. “Roughly speaking, we’ll be able to burn out ‘the eyes’ of missiles that ‘look at us.’”
Russia is making efforts to upgrade its fighter-aircraft inventory in general. It is currently stocked with many Mig-31 jets that are 25 to 30 years old. “Sixth-generation” development plans—a generic term that means new jets that are in the conceptual development phase—include a new Mig-41 that might be its successor.
Lasers aren’t the only innovation that Russian engineers hope to outfit these new jets with: They are also working on radio-suppression systems to jam enemy surveillance, along with radio-photonic radar that can see farther than existing navigational systems.
These research efforts and others are facing competition from the United States military, which is also working on laser applications. U.S. Army engineers are experimenting with surface-to-air laser guns that could shoot down aerial drones and projectiles, but there is no projection yet on when this system will be ready for operation.