Russia to build its own laser-equipped, satellite-shooting jet

The insignia on the side of Russia's Beriev A-60 shows a lightning bolt blasting what looks a lot like the Hubble Space Telescope. That's made more suspicious by the plane's megawatt laser turret hidden in the back that only points upward. Hubble doesn't seem like it would be much of a threat to anyone, but you do the math.

a60_logo.jpg

Hubble might not be a military asset, but there are plenty of other satellites up there that are (including similar-looking military KH-11 surveillance platforms), and it seems like the Russians are working on a way to deal with them if necessary. The Beriev A-60 is sort of similar to America's own Airborne Laser Testbed, except that instead of a laser that points down and forward, the A-60's turret points upward. And there's only one kind of thing to hit above a high-flying jet: satellites.

Inside the A-60 are two turbine generators providing just over two megawatts to the laser, which is capable of producing a one megawatt continuous infrared beam with an effective range of somewhere between 200 and 375 vertical miles. Hubble, in case you were wondering, orbits at just under 350 miles, while most surveillance satellites in elliptical polar orbits can be found much lower, down to 175 miles, which puts them in easy range of the Russian laser.

a60_2.jpg

This A-60 isn't the first Russian laser testbed. Back in the 1980s there was another aircraft that was destroyed by a maintenance crew who accidentally started a fire while trying to steal (quite toxic) alcohol from the de-icing system.

As for the current A-60, it looks kind of run-down, but it's apparently been successfully tested several times against high-altitude balloons and drones. A Russian article from last December suggests that preparations for a new series of trials over the next three to five years are currently underway, and what with the U.S. and China blowing up satellites left and right, it seems to make sense that Russia would try to demonstrate that they've got the same capability.

Space Review, via Danger Room

For the latest tech stories, follow us on Twitter at @dvice