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Explainer: What we know about Russia's new laser weapons that can destroy drones


Explainer: What we know about Russia's new laser weapons that can destroy drones
Russia claims it is using a new generation of powerful lasers in Ukraine to burn up drones, the latest secret weapon deployed by Moscow to counter the flood of Western arms in a conflict that is about to enter its fourth month. 


New Delhi: Russia claims it is using a new generation of powerful lasers in Ukraine to burn up drones, the latest secret weapon deployed by Moscow to counter the flood of Western arms in a conflict that is about to enter its fourth month. 

In 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin had mentioned a laser weapon called 'Peresvet'. The new and more powerful laser weapon allegedly deployed in Ukraine is called 'Zadira'. 

Yury Borisov, the deputy PM in charge of military development, said that Peresvet was already being widely deployed and it could blind satellites up to 1,500 km above Earth. He said there were already more powerful systems than Peresvet that can burn up drones and other equipment. 

Borisov, citing a test conducted in early May, said Zadira burned up a drone 5 km away within five seconds. "If Peresvet blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons leads to the physical destruction of the target - thermal destruction," he told Russian state television. 

Asked if such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: "Yes. The first prototype of Zadira is already being used there." 

In early 2021, it was reported that the DRDO was developing a Directionally Unrestricted Ray-Gun Array (DURGA II), a laser weapon for land, naval, and air use. 

Here is what we know about laser weapons:

* Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom helped develop laser weapons as part of a programme to create weapons based on new physical principles. 

* Besides the benefit of burning up drones, blinding reconnaissance systems has a strategic impact too as satellites are used to monitor intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear weapons. 

* According to some military experts, the laser weapons can be successfully used against unmanned aerial vehicles. 

* Its effectiveness directly depends on environmental conditions: in good weather, it works perfectly, but fog, rain, snow and other adverse weather events can interfere with the passage/focus of the laser beam. 

* The weapons consume a lot of electricity, so using them as a portable tool is unlikely to succeed. 

* Challenges still remain on developing a cooling mechanism for the system that heats up when the laser beam is fired. 

* Israel recently successfully tested the “Iron Beam” laser interception system. It uses a laser to shoot down incoming UAVs, rockets and mortars. 

* China has announced plans to equip its J-20 stealth fighter with laser weapons. 

* Laser weapons offer several advantages over projectile ones, including instantaneous hits, pinpoint targeting and scalable power depending on the mission. 

* Although they have a high initial cost, laser weapons are cost-efficient once established, with negligible costs per shot. Every Iron Beam shot costs just $3.50 compared to a missile that may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

* The drawbacks, however, include massive power requirements, decreasing power with distance and sensitivity to atmospheric conditions.
To counter hypersonic weapons

The fast emergence of hypersonic weapons may be a major reason for renewed interest in laser weapons programs and their quick deployment. 

Hypersonic weapons fly at speeds of Mach 5 or faster to evade missile defenses. Current missile-based systems are likely to be ineffective against hypersonic threats, and the high cost of each interceptor missile makes them potentially unfeasible long-term options. 

Laser weapons are seen as a better defence due to their instantaneous hit capability and negligible cost per shot. 

No longer in the realm of sci-fi

Using lasers to blind satellites was once a fantasy from the realm of science fiction, but the United States, China and Russia have been working on variants of such weapons for years. 

Borisov's remarks indicate Russia has made significant progress with laser weapons, a trend of considerable interest to the US and China. 

He added that a new generation of laser weapons using a wide electromagnetic band would ultimately replace conventional weapons. 

"This is not some sort of exotic idea; it is the reality," Borisov said. 

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