“Imagine an attack on an important facility with several hundred AI-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), equipped with warheads the size of a hand grenade and capable of flying into an open window or a cockpit of an aircraft,” Mikhail Khodarenok, military analyst and retired colonel in Russian missile defense forces, told RT.
Mini-drones cost relatively little, but can do significant damage by “striking a modern airplane, priced at more than $100 million, at an airfield or destroying a very expensive long-range anti-aircraft missile system,” he said.
“How do you stop those UAVs? Fire anti-aircraft guided missiles, worth $200 thousand each, at them?”Khodarenok wondered.
Effective means of combating micro- and mini-UAVs are currently nonexistent and lasers look like a very promising area of research in this regard. Firing a laser costs pennies, but the effect can be huge.
He pointed out that such attacks are “not sci-fi, but near future of armed struggle” and reminded that terrorists have already targeted Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base in Syria with small makeshift drones on numerous occasions.
On Thursday, German arms maker, Rheinmetall, announced a successful test of a laser weapon. During the tests at a range outside the Swiss city of Zurich in December, the system “demonstrated its speed and precision” by hitting drones and mortar shells, it said. According to the company, its laser weapon, which is designed to fit with the German military’s MANTIS air-defense system, boasts “an extremely accurate mechanical aiming function, coupled with an unlimited, 360° traversing zone.”
Despite the German company’s bravado, the analyst said that “one must understand that the true test of the effectiveness of a military system is actual combat and the statistics after the conclusion of warfare.”
Germany isn’t the only country developing a military laser, with the US, Russia, and others also working on such technologies.
The Peresvet laser weapon system was mentioned by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speech before the Federal Assembly a year ago as part of a wide range of brand new state-of-the-art military hardware.
The expert said it’s currently difficult to compare Rheinmetall’s laser with Peresvet because “there’s almost no open data”on the Russian system. There’s so far no clarity if it’s a powerful jamming device or a weapon to engage airborne targets.
“However, there are grounds to believe that the developers [in Germany and Russia] are moving in roughly the same direction,” he added.
Combat lasers aren’t without disadvantages, Khodarenok stressed. “It’s now hard to say how this type of weaponry will operate in Russia’s climate where there aren’t so many sunny days.”
But the shortcoming will be eradicated and “lasers will certainly change not just the tactics of engagement, but the very substance of future warfare, especially, when it comes to air defense, and, over time, missile defense,” he said.