To Thwart U.S. Lasers, China Wants Smokescreens

From Popular Mechanics

The U.S. and other militaries are looking more and more into fielding real laser weapons. In response, the Chinese People's Liberation Army is placing new emphasis on actual smokescreens to protect forces on the ground and at sea from lasers.

In December 2014, the USS Ponce's Laser Weapons System became the first operational battlefield laser, capable of engaging light aircraft, drones, and small boats with a 15-50 kilowatt laser beam. The U.S. Military, for one, plans to put weapon lasers on fighters, gunships and surface ships. Most, if not all armed forces worldwide will eventually follow suit.

Lasers do have their drawbacks: the presence of microscopic particles in the air causes lasers to lose their intensity. Lasers naturally lose intensity over distance due to particulates in the air, a problem that grows much worse if a laser tries to penetrate a cloud, rain, fog, or man-made smoke. According to this article, China's PLA is now working to thwart enemy lasers by creating smoke screens over its own combat forces. These would not only obstruct weaponized lasers, but also laser designators that guide other weapons, such as the Paveway family of laser-guided bombs.

The PLA is experimenting with creating smoke in two ways: creating sulfur trioxide smoke through burning materials (spraying oil on a hot diesel engine is one way to do it) or creating an oily fog. The PLA Chemical Corps plans to use a new multiple canister launcher (pictured) to rapidly lay down protective smoke screens for nearby friendly forces.

While this idea is fine and dandy for protecting forces standing still, there are some limitations. A protective screen of particulates is subject to the fickle whims of Mother Nature, and can linger for hours or mere minutes until dispersed by local winds. Smoke also works both ways: a PLA unit being smothered by a protective smokescreen is effectively blinded, and is unable to move lest it lose its protection.

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