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Russian HEL Programs

OWoN: Russia has demonstrated it has this system deployed by shooting down a U.S. Drone last year. Is it possible that this system is now being exported to BRICS nations? If so ask, why now? Expect a lot of whupped US Asses in conflict zones soon. You fly - YOU DIE!

Russian HEL Programs

Air Power Australia
By Dr Carlo Kopp
Last updated 27 January 2015

Almaz-Antey High Energy Laser Directed Energy Weapon

Left: Almaz beam director optical turret mounted on a MAZ-7910 8 x 8 chassis, the turret is located on the turntable otherwise employed for the 30N6 radar. Centre: Primary optical aperture for beam director. Right: Carbon Dioxide Gas Dynamic Laser (GDL) bank testbed. Note the hardstand used to support the MAZ-7930 chassis.

Target drone engagement using the HEL GDL demonstrator. (1) shows target before illumination, (2) shows target being illuminated, and (3) shows target breakup following a successful hit. Almaz-Antey have not disclosed the range of this trial or the emitted CW power level of the GDL.

The interest in the use of High Energy Laser (HEL) Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) observed in the US, EU and Israel is paralleled by a development effort at Almaz-Antey aimed at trialling HEL DEW technology for air defence applications.

Little has been disclosed by Almaz-Antey on the detail of this program. It clearly intended to build up expertise and experience across the whole spectrum of necessary capabilities, in this instance beam director optics, adaptive optics, tracking capabilities, and high continuous wave power level laser designs.

The laser depicted is a CO2 Gas Dynamic Laser (GDL), the same technology used by the US Air Force during the 1990s Airborne Laser Laboratory (ALL) program. It operates in the LWIR band at 10.6 microns, and is operationally attractive due to its simple fuel supply in comparison with Deuterium Fluoride (DF) and Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL). What is less attractive about CO2 GDLs is that tropospheric CO2 molecules increase propagation losses, and aluminium, the primary structural material in many potential targets, has a very high reflectance in this band, thus reducing power coupling efficiency into the target, and increasing dwell time.

What has not been disclosed by Almaz-Antey is the progress on this project, especially in the critical area of adaptive optics and wavefront sensor technology for controlling adaptive mirrors. GDL technology is relatively mature, and derivative chemical laser designs will be largely determined by Russian capabilities in developing power modules for a given laser type. The choice of CO2 GDL may have been simply determined by its availability and low risk, as a means of demonstrating and proving other more sensitive system components.

An operational HEL DEW air defence system will emerge only once the laser and beam director technology has matured to the point where a robust deployable design can be built. Given the Russian penchant for robustness and incremental evolution of designs, it is not difficult to postulate a configuration for such a system:

1. Beam Director Platform (BDP): an evolution of the existing demonstrator carried on an 8 x 8 MZKT-7930, or towed by an MZKT-7930 in an articulated semi-trailer arrangement.

2. HEL Power Stage System (PSS): ideally integrated on the BDP vehicle to maximise mobility, but may need to be carried separately if volume is too great, the latter impairing mobility.

3. Engagement Radar System: a derivative of the existing 92N2E Grave Stone carried on an 8 x 8 MZKT-7930.

4. Fuel Supply Vehicles: 8 x 8 MZKT-7930, probably based on an existing fuel tanker.

The CONOPS for such a system would be similar to the US Army MTHEL system, although it is likely the Russians will pursue a fully mobile configuration, consistent with their doctrine for SAM systems (refer below). It is likely that a key role of such a DEW would be the interception of PGMs, this placing the weapon system firmly in the domain of point defence.

Until we see further disclosures from the Russian MoD or Almaz-Antey, a more detailed assessment of this system is not feasible. Given the sensitivity of HEL weapon lethality performance to operating wavelength and beam quality, any predictions of achievable range performance would be at best speculative. For a system to be operationally effective, a sustained power output of the order of a MegaWatt would be required.

1987 concept illustration produced by the DIA, showing the expected configuration of the operational Soviet HEL DEW weapon system - Image: US DoD

Almaz/Beriev A-60 High Energy Laser Directed Energy Weapon Testbed

Images RuMoD via

Initiated by the Soviets as a parallel program to the US Air Force Airborne Laser Laboratory, the Almaz/Beriev A-60 program aimed to demonstrate an airborne HEL DEW capability, and provide baseline data for the development of an operational weapon. The A-60 was therefore a research testbed, even if an operational capability were to be later based on this design.

Two demonstrators were built, the first flying in 1981, the second in 1991. Much of what is available from Russian open sources does not detail actual progress or achievements in this program.

Observable design modifications to the Il-76MD Candid host airframe include:

1. Nose mounted fairing for the installation of a steerable beam director turret (curiously a similar arrangement to the much later Boeing YAL-1A design).

2. Removal of aft clamshell doors, replacement shell with a large axial exhaust aperture.

3. Enlarged main undercarriage sponsons with inlets and exhausts for an undisclosed system (likely laser and systems cooling).

4. Removal of the tail gunner station.

All open source imagery shows a dummy optical beam director turret installation in the nose. Claims by Russian authors that the beam director was to be deployed from a dorsal hatch are impossible to reconcile with the unique ball turret shaping characteristic of a rotating and tilting beam director. Subject to basic design of the turret, this arrangement would provide at least hemispherical solid angle coverage, and possibly slightly more subject to turret tilt angle relative to the cylindrical fairing shroud.

There have been no disclosures on the type of laser intended for the A-60, although given the concurrent effort by Almaz on the CO2 GDL for the ground based mobile point defence weapon, it is reasonable to assume the same design. The large exhaust port in the aft fuselage is consistent with a GDL or chemical laser.

The current status of this program is not clear. At the end of the Cold War research funding collapsed for most advanced programs, but it is not known whether this project was mothballed or disbanded. If the Russian Air Force sought an airborne laser weapon then the A-60 project would be a viable starting point.

Boeing YAL-1A ABL beam director turret. The Soviets opted for this installation arrangement almost two decades before the YAL-1A program was defined - Image: US DoD


1 comment :

  1. Hmmm, well that all sounds pretty impressive and who honestly knows who possesses what type of weapons we are not aware of. I appreciate that with the current state our world is in with the asset stealing war mongers running around the globe doing what they do best that there is a need for good defense systems. BUT, and there is always a but with me. Imagine if all the time, energy and money that is placed into programs of this nature being redirected into humanitarian projects. Will there ever come a day when we do not have to live in fear of others attacking us and be in a position to direct our energy toward everything that's good in this world? I sure hope so.


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