By Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it was using a new generation of powerful lasers in Ukraine to burn up drones, deploying some of Moscow’s secret weapons to counter a flood of Western weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 unveiled an intercontinental ballistic missile, underwater nuclear drones, a supersonic weapon, and a laser weapon.
Little is known about the details of the new laser. Putin mentioned one called Peresvet, named after a medieval Orthodox warrior monk, Alexander Peresvet, who was killed in mortal combat.
Yury Borisov, the deputy prime minister in charge of military development, told a conference in Moscow that Peresvet was already being widely deployed and could blind satellites up to 1,500 km above the Earth.
He said that there were already systems more powerful than Peresvet that could burn drones and other equipment. Borisov cited a test on Tuesday that he said had burned down a drone 5km away in five seconds.
“If Peresvet blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons leads to the physical destruction of the target – thermal destruction, they burn,” he told Russian state television.
Asked if such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: “Yes. The first prototypes are already being used there.” He said that the weapon was called “Zadira”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy mockingly compared the lasers news to the so-called wonder weapons that Nazi Germany unveiled in an attempt to avert defeat in World War II.
“The more it became clear that they had no chance in the war, the more propaganda there was about an incredible weapon that would be powerful enough to secure a turning point,” he said in a late-night video address.
“And so we see that in the third month of a full-scale war, Russia is trying to find its ‘wonder weapon’… all this clearly shows the total failure of the mission.”
Almost nothing is publicly known about Zadira, but in 2017 Russian media said that the state nuclear corporation Rosatom helped develop it as part of a program to create new physical principles based on weapons.
The invasion of Ukraine has illustrated the limits of Russia’s post-Soviet conventional armed forces, though Putin says the “special military operation” is to be planned.
Borisov’s comments indicate that Russia has made significant progress with laser weapons, a trend of considerable interest to other nuclear powers such as the United States and China.
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.
In addition to the benefit of burning drones, blinding reconnaissance systems also have a strategic impact, as satellites are used to monitor intercontinental ballistic missiles that carry nuclear weapons.
Borisov said he had just returned from Sarov, which is a Russian nuclear weapons research center. He said that a new generation of laser weapons using a wide electromagnetic band would ultimately replace conventional weapons.
“This is not some kind of exotic idea; it is reality,” Borisov said.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Ronald Popeski in Winnipeg, Canada; Editing by Nick Macfie and Grant McCool)