Russia Claims It Now Has Lasers To Shoot Satellites

By Patrick Tucker

February 26, 2018

Russian defense companies have created a plane-mounted laser that can hit satellites — at least according to an anonymous source quoted by Russian news agency Interfax. On Saturday, an Interfax report cited the source as saying that weapons maker Almaz-Antey has “completed work on the anti-satellite complex," which includes the laser and associated ground control gear.

Independent and Western observers have not yet verified the claim. But the Russian program does exist. Last April, Almaz-Antey general designer Pavel Sozinov told Russian news agency Ria Novosti that Russian leadership had ordered the company to develop weapons that could interfere electronically with or achieve “direct functional destruction of those elements deployed in orbit.”

The program builds off the Soviet-era Beriev A-60, a gas laser fitted inside a heavily modified Ilyushin Il-76MD cargo plane. The effort also bears some resemblance to the Soviets’ 1984 Kontakt 30P6 program, which sought to modify a MiG-31D to draw targeting data from the Krona-N space and satellite observation complex and shoot down an enemy satellite with a 79M6 Kontakt missile.

The new laser will be fitted aboard a brand-new, as-yet-unnamed aircraft, as part of a new anti-satellite “complex” that will likely involve ground and radar elements as well, Interfax reported.  

Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, said, “Russia considers American satellites a significant threat when it comes to potential confrontation, and is actively working to counter U.S. technologies in space, such as possible electronic warfare technologies that can target hundreds of kilometers up. The developments in laser technologies are in step with U.S. and Chinese advancements in this area.”

U.S. defense officials are increasingly concerned about anti-satellite weapons. “We assess that Russia and China perceive a need to offset any U.S. military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems and are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine,” Dan Coats, who directs the director of the Office of National Intelligence, told lawmakers last May.

A Joint Staff report obtained by the Washington Free Beacon in January, predicted that Russia or China would be able to destroy U.S. satellites within a decade.

By Patrick Tucker // Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine years. Tucker has written about emerging technology in Slate, The Sun, MIT Technology Review, Wilson Quarterly, The American Legion Magazine, BBC News Magazine, Utne Reader, and elsewhere.

February 26, 2018