China Joins the Laser Arms Race

Who wants to play Death Star and x-wings?

Lasers and other directed energy weapons are all the rage in D.C., with a U.S. general recently declaring at a conference dedicated to the topic that “Directed energy brings the dawn of an entirely new era in defense.” Indeed, the U.S. Navy has already tested lasers on warships deployed in the Persian Gulf and plans to arm other systems like aerial gunships with the weapons in the years ahead. Lasers are also a crucial part of long-term plans to defeat the threat of higher numbers of Chinese anti-ship missiles.

Low Altitude Guard I

The Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics displays the Low Altitude Guard I again at the July 2015 Beijing Weapons Expo. The camouflaged container holds the power backs, cooling system and computer for the laser turret on top. With 10 kilowatts of power, an 85 degree elevation and 2km range, the Guard I can quickly knock out low flying drones in crowded urban environments with little/no collateral damage.

But just like in other areas of technology, China does not plan on being easily “offset.” The Chinese Academy of Physics Engineering is already hawking a combat-ready laser turret, showcased at the Beijing Weapons Expo this month.

Laser Turret

The laser turret’s beam weapon is on its right side, while day and infrared/night video cameras are located on the left. That China is willing to openly sell an automated, lethal laser for law enforcement and counter-terrorist purposes raises questions about how far advanced are actual Chinese military laser weapons programs proceeding.

A collaboration between the Academy and Jiuyuan Hi-Tech Equipment Corporation, the Low Altitude Guard I is a 10 kilowatt laser meant to zap low flying drones up to 2 kilometers away. The Low Altitude Guard I’s electro-optical turret can see out to 5 kilometers. Promotional literature brags about its automated fire control– it’s able to identify and track rogue drones so that the operator only needs to press a firing button. The Low Altitude Guard’s small size allows for stealthy placement on high-rise buildings and around critical infrastructure like airports and dams. Lasers are also a cheaper and safer lethal air defense option, especially in urban areas, compared to cannons and missiles.

Laser Truck

The Low Altitude Guard II is a more powerful, mobile follow up to the laser turret, one with potential military applications that goes beyond just shooting down drones to possibly defending against mortar and rocket attacks.

More interestingly, the Academy plans to develop a more powerful, truck-mounted version, the Low Altitude Guard II. A more powerful laser turret would be able to extend defenses against drones, aircraft, missiles and artillery shells out to several kilometers, roughly the capabilities of modern autocannons. Just as with U.S. military plans, don’t be surprised to see future Chinese aircraft and warships armed with their own missile killing lasers.

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