Burner: self-propelled laser system 1K17 "Compression"
FSUE NPO Astrophysics, within whose walls this impressive installation was developed, refused to give any comments about its design, operation principle, tactical objectives and technical characteristics.
Meanwhile, our interest was not caused at all by contempt for state secrets. We saw and unimpededly photographed SLC Compression at the Military Technical Museum, which recently opened in the village of Ivanovo, Moscow Region. There, a rare exhibit is also exhibited without annotation. They say that the decommissioned copy in a very depressing state was handed over to the museum by a certain military unit near Kolomna. The local warriors did not tell about the purpose of the device: not because it was secret, but because they themselves somehow did not think about it. Otherwise, they would not have given it.
We tried to figure out why the "laser tank" had sixteen "eyes" and how secret it was that it was put on public display under the heading of secrecy.
"Stiletto": dead souls
The second half of the 20th century can rightfully be called the era of laser euphoria. The theoretical advantages of laser weapons, with the speed of light hitting a target with direct fire, regardless of wind and ballistics, were obvious not only to science fiction. The first working laser sample was created in 1960, and already in 1963, a group of specialists from the Vympel Design Bureau began to develop the experimental LE-1 laser locator. It was then that the main backbone of scientists of the future NPO Astrophysics was formed. In the early 1970s, a specialized laser design bureau finally took shape as a separate enterprise, received its own production facilities and a bench-test base. An interdepartmental research center of the OKB "Rainbow" was created, sheltered from prying eyes and ears in the numbered city of Vladimir-30.
In 1978, the NGO Astrophysics was formed, in which the post of general designer was taken by Nikolai Dmitrievich Ustinov, son of the USSR Minister of Defense Dmitry Ustinov. It is difficult to say whether this affected the already successful development of NGOs in the field of military lasers. One way or another, already in 1982 the first self-propelled laser system 1K11 "Stiletto" was put into service with the Soviet Army.
The "stylet" was designed to disable optical-electronic systems for targeting enemy weapons. Its potential targets are tanks, self-propelled artillery mounts, and even low-flying helicopters. Having discovered the target by means of radar, "Stiletto" made its laser sounding, trying to detect optical equipment by glare lenses. Having precisely localized the "electronic eye", the device hit him with a powerful laser pulse, blinding or burning out a sensitive element (photocell, photosensitive matrix, or even the retina of the aiming soldier's eye).
The horizontal laser was guided by turning the turret, vertically - using a system of precisely positioned large-sized mirrors. The accuracy of aiming "Stiletto" is beyond doubt. To get an idea of it, it’s enough to recall that the LE-1 laser locator, which started the Astrophysics NPO, was capable of directing 196 laser beams into the target space in a split second — a ballistic missile flying at a speed of 4-5 km / s.
The 1K11 laser system was mounted on the chassis of the GMZ (crawler mine layer) of the Sverdlovsk factory Uraltransmash. Only two machines were made that were different from each other: during testing, the laser part of the complex was refined and changed.
Formally, the SLK "Stilet" to this day is in service with the Russian army and, as the historical brochure of the NPO "Astrophysics" says, meets the modern requirements of military-tactical operations. But sources at Uraltransmash claim that 1K11, except for two experienced ones, was not collected at the plant. A couple of decades later, both machines were discovered in a disassembled form, with the laser part removed. One was disposed of in the sump of the 61st BTRZ near St. Petersburg, and the other was disposed of at a tank repair plant in Kharkov.
Sanguine: at its zenith
The development of laser weapons at the Astrophysics Research and Production Association was progressing at the Stakhanov pace, and already in 1983 the Sanguin SLK was put into service. Its main difference from the "Stiletto" was that the combat laser was aimed at the target without the use of large-sized mirrors. Simplification of the optical design had a positive effect on the weapon's striking ability. But the most important improvement was the increased mobility of the laser in the vertical plane. "Sanguine" was intended to destroy the optoelectronic systems of air targets.
The shot resolution system specially developed for the complex allowed him to successfully shoot at moving targets. In tests, the Sanguin SLK demonstrated the ability to stably determine and hit the optical systems of a helicopter at ranges greater than 10 km. At close distances (up to 8 km), the device completely incapacitated enemy sights, and blinded them for tens of minutes at maximum ranges.
The Sanguine laser system was mounted on the chassis of the Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. In addition to the combat laser, a low-power probing laser and a receiver of the guidance system, which records the reflections of the probe’s beam from the flashing object, were mounted on the tower.
Three years after the Sanguine, the arsenal of the Soviet army was replenished with the Akvilon ship laser system with a principle of operation similar to that of the ground SLK. Sea-based has an important advantage over land-based: the power system of a warship can provide significantly more electricity for pumping a laser. So, you can increase the power and rate of fire of the gun. The Akvilon complex was intended to destroy the optoelectronic systems of the enemy coast guard.
Compression: Laser Rainbow
SLK 1K17 “Compression” was put into service in 1992 and was much more perfect than the “Stiletto”. The first difference that catches your eye is the use of a multi-channel laser. Each of the 12 optical channels (upper and lower row of lenses) had an individual guidance system. The multichannel scheme made it possible to make the laser system multiband. As a counter to such systems, the adversary could defend his optics with filters that block radiation of a certain frequency. But against the simultaneous defeat by rays of a different wavelength, the filter is powerless.
Lenses in the middle row relate to aiming systems. The small and large lenses on the right are the probe laser and the receiving channel of the automatic guidance system. The same pair of lenses on the left are optical sights: a small daylight and a large night. The night sight was equipped with two laser range-finders. In the stowed position, both the optics of the guidance systems and the emitters were closed by armored shields.
The SLK Squeeze used a solid-state laser with fluorescent pump lamps. Such lasers are compact enough and reliable for use in automotive applications. This is evidenced by foreign experience: in the American ZEUS system, mounted on a Humvee all-terrain vehicle and designed to "set fire" enemy mines at a distance, a laser with a solid working body was mainly used.
In amateur circles, there is a bike about a 30-pound ruby crystal, grown specifically for Compression. In fact, ruby lasers are out of date almost immediately after their birth. Nowadays, they are used only to create holograms and information tattoos. A working fluid in 1K17 could well be yttrium aluminum garnet with neodymium additives. The so-called pulsed YAG lasers are capable of developing impressive power.
Generation in YAG occurs at a wavelength of 1064 nm. This is infrared radiation, which in difficult weather conditions is less susceptible to scattering than visible light. Due to the high power of the YAG laser on a nonlinear crystal, harmonics can be obtained — pulses with a wavelength of two, three, four times shorter than the original. Thus, multi-band radiation is formed.
The main problem of any laser is its extremely low efficiency. Even in the most modern and sophisticated gas lasers, the ratio of radiation energy to pump energy does not exceed 20%. Pump lamps require a lot of electricity. Powerful generators and auxiliary power plant took b? the largest part of the enlarged cabin of the 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled artillery installation (which is already rather big), on the basis of which the Compression Complex was built. Generators charge a capacitor bank, which, in turn, provides a powerful pulse discharge to the lamps. It takes time to “fill up” the capacitors. The rate of fire of the SLK “Squeeze” is perhaps one of its most mysterious parameters and, perhaps, one of the main tactical shortcomings.
Secret to the whole world
The most important advantage of a laser weapon is direct fire. Independence from the vagaries of the wind and an elementary aiming scheme without ballistic corrections means firing accuracy inaccessible to conventional artillery. If you believe the official brochure of the NGO Astrophysics, claiming that the Sanguine could hit targets at a distance of more than 10 km, the range of the Squeeze is at least twice the firing range of, say, a modern tank. So, if a hypothetical tank is approaching 1Q17 in an open area, then it will be disabled before it opens fire. Sounds tempting.
However, direct fire is both the main advantage and the main disadvantage of laser weapons. For his work requires direct visibility. Even if you fight in the desert, a 10-kilometer mark will disappear beyond the horizon. To meet guests with a blinding light, a self-propelled laser must be put on the mountain for all to see. In real conditions, such tactics are contraindicated. In addition, the vast majority of military theaters have at least some relief.
And when the same hypothetical tanks are at a distance of a shot from the SLK, they immediately receive advantages in the form of rate of fire. “Compression” can render one tank harmless, but as long as the capacitors recharge, the second can avenge a blind friend. In addition, there is a much more long-range weapon than artillery. For example, a Maverick missile with a radar (non-blinding) guidance system is launched from a distance of 25 km, and observing the surroundings of the SLK on the mountain is an excellent target for it.
Do not forget that dust, fog, precipitation, smoke curtains if they do not negate the effect of the infrared laser, then at least significantly reduce its range. So the self-propelled laser complex has, to put it mildly, a very narrow area of tactical application.
Why were SLK Squeeze and its predecessors born? There are many opinions on this subject. Perhaps these devices were considered as test benches for testing future military and military-space technologies. Perhaps the country's military leadership was ready to invest in technology, the effectiveness of which at that time seemed doubtful, hoping to experimentally find the superweapon of the future. Or maybe three mysterious cars with the letter “C” were born because Ustinov was the general designer. More precisely, the son of Ustinov.
There is a version that the SLC “Compression” is a weapon of psychological action. The mere probability of the presence of such a machine on the battlefield makes gunners, observers, snipers cautiously treat optics in fear of losing their sight. Contrary to popular belief, Compression does not fall under the UN Protocol prohibiting the use of blinding weapons, as it is intended to destroy optoelectronic systems, and not personnel. Using weapons for which blinding people is a possible side effect is not prohibited.
This version partially explains the fact that news about the creation in the USSR of the most strictly classified weapons, including Stiletto and Compression, quickly appeared in the free American press, in particular in the magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology.The article “Burner” was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 1, January 2011).