Chinese military hints at plans for airborne laser attack weapon

Liu Zhen

China could be developing the capability to attach a new laser weapon to its planes, after its military revealed plans to buy such equipment.

Notices titled “procurement plan for airborne laser attack pod” and “price inquiry on procurement plan for controlling software module of laser attack platform” were published on Saturday on, the official weapons and equipment procurement website of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Marked confidential, the notices invited bids from potential suppliers.

Although the detailed requirements for such equipment are unknown, it is likely to be a new type of tactical assault weapon, rather than laser guidance devices for missiles, which are already widely in use. The notice titles supported this idea, said Global Times, the nationalist tabloid published under the auspices of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

Global Times reported that this type of airborne laser weapon could be a tool for aerial interception to take down incoming missiles or shoot down hostile aircraft in a dogfight.

On Monday, a post from the Weibo account of Weihutang, a military affairs programme screened by state broadcaster China Central Television, stated that China had already developed a prototype for an airborne laser weapon, citing a publicly available academic thesis.

The paper, “Study on Energy Storage and Power Supply of Airborne Laser Weapon”, was by state-owned AVIC Manufacturing Technology Institute and the Military Resident Representative Bureau of Special Equipment of PLA Rocket Force in Shenyang.

The thesis confirmed that the prototype had completed system loading and environment experiments for the power supply device for the laser weapon of 100 kilowatts of power, the Weihutang post stated.

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High-energy laser weapons have an advantage in battle because the laser beams travel straight and at the speed of light – with almost no time delay, and faster than any missile or aircraft.

But powerful laser weapons are not yet widely deployed, due to technological challenges. To damage or destroy a big target would require a considerable power supply, and energy loss in transmission over distance is significant.

At present, a majority of the laser weapons in use are small and non-lethal, mainly causing temporary or permanent vision loss in enemy combatants, which remains controversial.

However, the Chinese military has already developed land-based laser weapons. An air defence laser weapon system, code-named LW-30 and developed by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, was displayed at the Airshow China in the southern city of Zhuhai in 2018.

It uses a high-energy laser to intercept aerial targets such as photoelectric guidance equipment, drones, guided bombs and mortars.

To mount such equipment onto aircraft would be more difficult. The United States has conducted research on developing this capability.

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