Since their inception, lasers have come to be seen as weapons with the potential to revolutionize combat. Since the middle of the 20th century, lasers have become an integral part of science fiction films, weapons of super soldiers and interstellar ships.
However, as is often the case in practice, the development of high-power lasers encountered great technical difficulties, which have led to the fact that until now the main niche of military lasers has become their use in reconnaissance, aiming and target designation systems. Nevertheless, work on the creation of combat lasers in the leading countries of the world practically did not stop, programs for the creation of new generations of laser weapons replaced one another.
Earlier, we examined some of the stages in the development of lasers and the creation of laser weapons, as well as the stages of development and the current situation in the creation of laser weapons for the air force, laser weapons for ground forces and air defense, laser weapons for the navy. At the moment, the intensity of programs for the creation of laser weapons in different countries is so high that there is no longer any doubt that they will soon appear on the battlefield. And it will not be as easy to protect yourself from laser weapons as some people think, at least it will definitely not be possible to do with silver.
If you look closely at the development of laser weapons in foreign countries, you will notice that most of the proposed modern laser systems are implemented on the basis of fiber and solid-state lasers. Moreover, for the most part, these laser systems are designed to solve tactical problems. Their output power currently ranges from 10 kW to 100 kW, but in the future it can be increased to 300-500 kW. In Russia, there is practically no information about the work on the creation of tactical-class combat lasers, we will talk about the reasons why this happens below.
On March 1, 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the course of his message to the Federal Assembly, along with a number of other breakthrough weapon systems, announced the Peresvet laser combat complex (BLK), the size and intended purpose of which imply its use for solving strategic tasks.
The Peresvet complex is surrounded by a veil of secrecy. The characteristics of other newest types of weapons (the Dagger, Avangard, Zircon, Poseidon complexes) were voiced to one degree or another, which partly makes it possible to judge their purpose and effectiveness. At the same time, no specific information on the Peresvet laser complex was provided: neither the type of the installed laser, nor the energy source for it. Accordingly, there is no information about the capacity of the complex, which, in turn, does not allow us to understand its real capabilities and the goals and objectives set for it.
Laser radiation can be obtained in dozens, perhaps even hundreds of ways. So what method of obtaining laser radiation is implemented in the newest Russian BLK "Peresvet"? To answer the question, we will consider various versions of the Peresvet BLK and assess the degree of probability of their implementation.
The information below is the author's assumptions based on information from open sources posted on the Internet
BLK "Peresvet". Execution number 1. Fiber, solid state and liquid lasers
As mentioned above, the main trend in the creation of laser weapons is the development of complexes based on fiber optic. Why is this happening? Because it is easy to scale the power of laser installations based on fiber lasers. Using a package of 5-10 kW modules, obtain 50-100 kW radiation at the output.
Can the Peresvet BLK be implemented on the basis of these technologies? It is highly probable that it is not. The main reason for this is that during the years of perestroika, the leading developer of fiber lasers, the IRE-Polyus Scientific and Technical Association, "fled" from Russia, on the basis of which the transnational corporation IPG Photonics Corporation was formed, registered in the USA and is now the world leader in the industry. high power fiber lasers. International business and the main place of registration of IPG Photonics Corporation implies its strict obedience to US legislation, which, given the current political situation, does not imply the transfer of critical technologies to Russia, which, of course, include technologies for creating high-power lasers.
Can fiber lasers be developed in Russia by other organizations? Perhaps, but unlikely, or while these are products of low power. Fiber lasers are a profitable commercial product; therefore, the absence of high-power domestic fiber lasers on the market most likely indicates their actual absence.
The situation is similar with solid-state lasers. Presumably, it is more difficult to implement a batch solution among them, nevertheless, it is possible, and in foreign countries this is the second most widespread solution after fiber lasers. Information on high-power industrial solid-state lasers made in Russia could not be found. Work on solid-state lasers is being carried out at the Institute of Laser Physics Research RFNC-VNIIEF (ILFI), so theoretically a solid-state laser can be installed in the Peresvet BLK, but in practice this is unlikely, since in the beginning more compact samples of laser weapons would most likely appear or experimental installations.
There is even less information about liquid lasers, although there is information that a liquid warfare laser is being developed (was it developed, but was it rejected?) In the USA as part of the HELLADS program (High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, "Defense system based on a high-energy liquid laser"). Presumably liquid lasers have the advantage of being able to cool, but lower efficiency (efficiency) compared to solid-state lasers.
In 2017, information appeared about the placement of the Polyus Research Institute of a tender for an integral part of research work (R&D), the purpose of which is to create a mobile laser complex to combat small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in daytime and twilight conditions. The complex should consist of a tracking system and the construction of target flight trajectories, providing target designation for the guidance system of laser radiation, the source of which will be a liquid laser. Of interest is the requirement specified in the statement of work on the creation of a liquid laser, and at the same time the requirement for the presence of a power fiber laser in the complex. Either it is a misprint, or a new type of fiber laser with a liquid active medium in a fiber has been developed (developed), which combines the advantages of a liquid laser in terms of the convenience of cooling and a fiber laser in combining emitter packages.
The main advantages of fiber, solid-state and liquid lasers are their compactness, the possibility of batch power build-up and ease of integration into various classes of weapons. All this is unlike the BLK "Peresvet" laser, which was clearly developed not as a universal module, but as a solution made "with a single goal, according to a single concept."Therefore, the probability of implementation of BLK "Peresvet" in Version No. 1 on the basis of fiber, solid-state and liquid lasers can be assessed as low
BLK "Peresvet". Execution number 2. Gas-dynamic and chemical lasers
Gas dynamic and chemical lasers can be considered an outdated solution. Their main disadvantage is the need for a large number of consumable components necessary to maintain the reaction, which ensures the receipt of laser radiation. Nevertheless, it was chemical lasers that received the greatest development in the development of the 70s - 80s of the XX century.
Apparently, for the first time, continuous radiation powers of more than 1 megawatt were obtained in the USSR and the USA on gas-dynamic lasers, whose operation is based on adiabatic cooling of heated gas masses moving at a supersonic speed.
In the USSR, since the mid-70s of the XX century, an air-based laser complex A-60 was developed on the basis of the Il-76MD aircraft, presumably armed with an RD0600 laser or its analogue. Initially, the complex was intended to combat automatic drifting balloons. As a weapon, a continuous gas-dynamic CO-laser of a megawatt class developed by the Khimavtomatika Design Bureau (KBKhA) was to be installed. As part of the tests, a family of GDT bench samples was created with a radiation power from 10 to 600 kW. The disadvantages of the GDT are the long radiation wavelength of 10.6 μm, which provides a high diffraction divergence of the laser beam.
Even higher radiation powers were obtained with chemical lasers based on deuterium fluoride and with oxygen-iodine (iodine) lasers (COILs). In particular, within the framework of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program in the United States, a chemical laser based on deuterium fluoride with a power of several megawatts was created; within the framework of the US National Missile Defense (NMD) program, the Boeing ABL (AirBorne Laser) aviation complex with an oxygen-iodine laser with a power of the order of 1 megawatt.
VNIIEF has created and tested the world's most powerful pulsed chemical laser on the reaction of fluorine with hydrogen (deuterium), developed a repetitively pulsed laser with a radiation energy of several kJ per pulse, a pulse repetition rate of 1–4 Hz, and a radiation divergence close to the diffraction limit and an efficiency of about 70% (the highest achieved for lasers).
In the period from 1985 to 2005. lasers were developed on the non-chain reaction of fluorine with hydrogen (deuterium), where sulfur hexafluoride SF6 was used as a fluorine-containing substance, dissociating in an electric discharge (photodissociation laser?). To ensure long-term and safe operation of the laser in a repetitively pulsed mode, installations with a closed cycle of changing the working mixture have been created. The possibility of obtaining a radiation divergence close to the diffraction limit, a pulse repetition rate of up to 1200 Hz, and an average radiation power of several hundred watts is shown.
Gas-dynamic and chemical lasers have a significant drawback, in most solutions it is necessary to ensure the replenishment of the "ammunition" stock, often consisting of expensive and toxic components. It is also necessary to clean the output gases resulting from the operation of the laser. In general, it is difficult to call gas-dynamic and chemical lasers an effective solution, which is why most countries have switched to the development of fiber, solid-state and liquid lasers.
If we talk about a laser based on the non-chain reaction of fluorine with deuterium, dissociating in an electric discharge, with a closed cycle of changing the working mixture, then in 2005 powers of about 100 kW were obtained, it is unlikely that during this time they could be brought to a megawatt level.
With regard to the Peresvet BLK, the issue of installing a gas-dynamic and chemical laser on it is quite controversial. On the one hand, there are significant developments in Russia on these lasers. Information appeared on the Internet about the development of an improved version of the A 60 - A 60M aviation complex with a 1 MW laser. It is also said about the placement of the "Peresvet" complex on an aircraft carrier ", which may be the second side of the same medal. That is, at first they could have made a more powerful ground complex based on a gas-dynamic or chemical laser, and now, following the beaten track, install it on an aircraft carrier.
The creation of "Peresvet" was carried out by specialists of the nuclear center in Sarov, at the Russian Federal Nuclear Center - All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF), at the already mentioned Institute of Laser Physics Research, which, among other things, develops gas-dynamic and oxygen-iodine lasers …
On the other hand, whatever one may say, gas-dynamic and chemical lasers are outdated technical solutions. In addition, information is actively circulating about the presence of a nuclear energy source in the Peresvet BLK to power the laser, and in Sarov they are more engaged in the creation of the latest breakthrough technologies, often associated with nuclear energy.
Based on the foregoing, it can be assumed that the probability of implementation of the Peresvet BLK in Execution No. 2 on the basis of gas-dynamic and chemical lasers can be estimated as moderate
In the late 1960s, work began in the USSR on the creation of high-power nuclear-pumped lasers. At first, specialists from VNIIEF, I. A. E. Kurchatov and the Research Institute of Nuclear Physics, Moscow State University. Then they were joined by scientists from MEPhI, VNIITF, IPPE and other centers. In 1972, VNIIEF excited a mixture of helium and xenon with uranium fission fragments using a VIR 2 pulsed reactor.
In 1974-1976. experiments are being carried out at the TIBR-1M reactor, in which the laser radiation power was about 1–2 kW. In 1975, on the basis of the VIR-2 pulsed reactor, a two-channel laser installation LUNA-2 was developed, which was still in operation in 2005, and it is possible that it is still working. In 1985, a neon laser was pumped for the first time in the world at the LUNA-2M facility.
In the early 1980s, scientists of VNIIEF, to create a nuclear laser element operating in a continuous mode, developed and manufactured a 4-channel laser module LM-4. The system is excited by a neutron flux from the BIGR reactor. The duration of the generation is determined by the duration of the irradiation pulse of the reactor. For the first time in the world, cw lasing in nuclear-pumped lasers was demonstrated in practice, and the efficiency of the method of transverse gas circulation was demonstrated. The laser radiation power was about 100 W.
In 2001, the LM-4 unit was upgraded and received the designation LM-4M / BIGR. The operation of a multi-element nuclear laser device in a continuous mode was demonstrated after 7 years of conservation of the facility without replacing optical and fuel elements. Installation LM-4 can be considered as a prototype of a reactor-laser (RL), possessing all its qualities, except for the possibility of a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
In 2007, instead of the LM-4 module, an eight-channel laser module LM-8 was put into operation, in which the sequential addition of four and two laser channels was provided.
A laser reactor is an autonomous device that combines the functions of a laser system and a nuclear reactor. The active zone of a laser reactor is a set of a certain number of laser cells placed in a certain way in a neutron moderator matrix. The number of laser cells can range from hundreds to several thousand. The total amount of uranium ranges from 5-7 kg to 40-70 kg, linear dimensions 2-5 m.
At VNIIEF, preliminary assessments were made of the main energy, nuclear-physical, technical and operational parameters of various versions of laser reactors with laser power from 100 kW and above, operating from fractions of a second to continuous mode. We considered laser reactors with heat accumulation in the reactor core in launches, the duration of which is limited by the permissible heating of the core (heat capacity radar) and continuous radar with the removal of thermal energy outside the core.
Presumably, a laser reactor with a laser power of the order of 1 MW should contain about 3000 laser cells.
In Russia, intensive work on nuclear-pumped lasers was carried out not only at VNIIEF, but also at the Federal State Unitary Enterprise “State Scientific Center of the Russian Federation - Institute of Physics and Power Engineering named after A. I. Leipunsky”, as evidenced by the patent RU 2502140 for the creation of“Reactor-laser installation with direct pumping by fission fragments”.
Specialists of the State Research Center of the Russian Federation IPPE have developed an energy model of a pulsed reactor-laser system - a nuclear-pumped optical quantum amplifier (OKUYAN).
Recalling the statement by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov in last year's interview with the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, we can say that the Peresvet BLK is equipped not with a small-sized nuclear reactor that supplies the laser with electricity, but with a reactor-laser, in which the fission energy is directly converted into laser radiation.
Doubt is only raised by the aforementioned proposal to place the Peresvet BLK on the plane. No matter how you ensure the reliability of the carrier aircraft, there is always the risk of an accident and a plane crash with the subsequent scattering of radioactive materials. However, it is possible that there are ways to prevent the spread of radioactive materials when the carrier falls. Yes, and we already have a flying reactor in a cruise missile, the petrel.
Based on the foregoing, it can be assumed that the probability of implementation of the Peresvet BLK in version No. 3 based on a nuclear-pumped laser can be estimated as high
It is not known whether the installed laser is pulsed or continuous. In the second case, the time of continuous operation of the laser and the breaks that must be carried out between operating modes are questionable. Hopefully, the Peresvet BLK has a continuous laser reactor, the operating time of which is limited only by the supply of refrigerant, or not limited if cooling is provided in some other way.
In this case, the output optical power of the Peresvet BLK can be estimated in the range of 1-3 MW with the prospect of increasing to 5-10 MW. It is hardly possible to hit a nuclear warhead even with such a laser, but an aircraft, including an unmanned aerial vehicle, or a cruise missile is quite. It is also possible to ensure the defeat of almost any unprotected spacecraft in low orbits, and possibly damage the sensitive elements of spacecraft in higher orbits.
Thus, the first target for the Peresvet BLK may be the sensitive optical elements of the US missile attack warning satellites, which can act as an element of missile defense in the event of a US surprise disarming strike.
As we said at the beginning of the article, there are a fairly large number of ways to obtain laser radiation. In addition to those discussed above, there are other types of lasers that can be effectively used in military affairs, for example, a free electron laser, in which it is possible to vary the wavelength over a wide range up to soft X-ray radiation and which just needs a lot of electrical energy, given out by a small-sized nuclear reactor. Such a laser is being actively developed in the interests of the US Navy. However, the use of a free electron laser in the Peresvet BLK is unlikely, since at present there is practically no information on the development of lasers of this type in Russia, apart from participation in Russia in the European X-ray free electron laser program.
It is necessary to understand that the assessment of the likelihood of using this or that solution in the Peresvet BLK is given rather tentatively: the presence of only indirect information obtained from open sources does not allow formulating conclusions with a high degree of reliability.