Russia is preparing to renew flight testing of a high-power flying laser designed to operate as an anti-satellite weapon, the Tass news agency reported. Mounted on a modified Ilyushin Il-76MD-90E transport plane the airborne laser laboratory aircraft flew for its first test mission in August 19, 1981. Two aircraft were modified and equipped for the tests that ceased following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2009 the project was revived as the A-60SE, mounting the original 1LK222 laser. This laser weapon will likely be used to dazzle adversary satellites or burning through sensitive optics and sensors using intensive enery laser bursts. With an effective range of 1,500 km (930 miles) such a laser can target reconnaissance satellites orbiting at low earth orbit (LEO). The effect on target range to temporarily disrupt to disabling adversary reconnaissance or missile warning satellites. Some sources claim the program also aims to develope a more powerful laser, that will be able to defeat aircraft and missiles.
The program discontinued in 2011 due to lack of funding but has apparently regained interest among Moscow’s strategists as it is considered as an asymmetrical response to looming space-based threats. Platforms suggested for the operational systems may be the original, refurbished A-60SE, newer Ilyushin-476 platforms, or the prospective strategic bomber PAK-DA.
The Russian laser weapon is not equivalent to the American anti-ballistic laser (ABL) developed and tested in the early 2000s. The United States developed a much more powerful chemical laser designated YAL-1. It was designed as an anti-missile proof of concept. YAL-1 demonstrated such capabilities in 2010, but the results were incolclusive and the project was scraped in 2011. According to some media sources the Russians could be considering a similar high power chemical laser for the ‘Sokol Eshelon’ (Falcon-Eshelon) program, developed by Voronezh-based Khimprom-Avtomatika corporation.