History of military laser technology development in military applications

Keywords: laser weaponry, laser rangefinders, target designators, non-lethal laser weapons, anti-ballistic missile laser weaponry, historical review


The aim of this research is to study the development as well as the known cases of military applications of laser technologies – from the first lasers employed in auxiliary systems to modern complex independent laser systems. For better understanding and systematization of knowledge about development of historical applications in the military field, an analysis of publicly known knowledge about their historical applications in the leading world countries was conducted. The study focuses on development that was carried out by the superpowers of the Cold War and the present era, namely the United States, the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China, and were built in metal. Multiple avenues of various applications of laser technology in military applications were studied, namely: military laser rangefinders; ground and aviation target designators; precision ammunition guidance systems; non-lethal anti-personnel systems; systems, designed to disable optoelectronics of military vehicles; as well as strategic and tactical anti-air and missile defense systems. To summarize and compare the results, an analysis of a number of previous works was considered, which considered the historical development, prospects and problems of the laser weaponry development. The issues of ethical use of laser weapons and the risks of their use in armed conflicts, which led to an international consensus in the form of conventions of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, were also considered. As a result of the analysis, a systematic approach to the classification of applications of laser technology in military products by three main areas of development was proposed: ancillary applications, non-lethal direct action on the human body and optical devices of military equipment, and anti-aircraft and anti-missile defensive systems. Due to the constant comprehensive modernization of laser technology systems in use, it was decided not to use the periodic classification model, but to indicate important and key events that indicated the main directions of further developmental work. However, it is important to note that the main focus of historical development of laser weapons depended not only on the technological limitations of the time, but also on the military-geopolitical situation in the world.


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Bernatskyi, A., & Sokolovskyi, M. (2022). History of military laser technology development in military applications. History of Science and Technology, 12(1), 88-113. https://doi.org/10.32703/2415-7422-2022-12-1-88-113