Chinese researchers turn to $1 adhesive to counter billion-dollar laser weapon from the US

China is already surging ahead to find ways to defend against directed energy weapons.
Ameya Paleja
Blue beam laser device, representatiojal image
Blue beam laser device, representatiojal image

pedro emanuel pereira/iStock 

Researchers at the Beijing Institute of Technology are experimenting with boron phenolic resin or BPR, a commonly used material in hot and high-stress environments to counter billion-dollar laser weapons being developed by the US. China is the world's largest manufacturer of the BPR. It only costs the country seven yuan (US$1) to produce 2.2 pounds (one kg) of the material, The South China Morning Post reported.

The US has been working on laser weapons as the next leap in its military technology thanks to its capability of being deployed on land, in water, and in the air. Interesting Engineering has previously reported multiple success stories of laser weapons in deployment, achieving results similar to those of conventional missiles.

With low-cost drones becoming commonplace in warfare, laser-based weapons are a great low-cost weapon to fire at them and promise unlimited ammunition as long there is an assured power supply. The US, however, is taking the laser weapon a step further and using it counter ballistic missiles as well. The research done by the Chinese promises to make a major dent in US plans.

Where is BPR used?

BPR is a low-cost resin used in industrial environments facing a lot of heat and high-stress conditions. The resin also has a military application, where it is used as a heat protection layer on missiles and high-speed drones.

However, laser weapons can easily burn a hole in this coating with a laser exposure of a few seconds. The research team led by Gao Lihang, a Beijing Institute of Technology professor, adds some inorganic compounds to the resin to make a new composite, BPR-1. Interestingly, the compounds such as silicon carbide, zirconium dioxide, and carbon black nanopowder were bought straight from the market and added to the low-cost resin.

How did BPR-1 fare against lasers?

In their experiments, the researchers applied 0.1 inches (2.5 mm) coating of the newly made resin and tested it against a 15-second blast from a weapons-grade laser. The power density of the laser was 500 watts per sq. cm, which is far more intense than what is typically used to target a ballistic missile.

According to the SCMP report, a laster from a three-megawatt weapon would theoretically have a power density of 300 watts per sq. cm. For all its advancements in space, the US military has only showcased 300-kilo-watt laser weapons, and megawatt laser weapons are currently under development.

Chinese researchers turn to $1 adhesive to counter billion-dollar laser weapon from the US
Can US lasers penetrate the Chinese defense?

After the 15-second test, the back surface of the coating showed a surface temperature of 445 Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius), which is far lesser than the 752 Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius) melting point of aluminum used for aerospace applications.

The researchers also found molten glass-like material across the heat-affected zone, which they believe was likely created by the added compounds in BPR-1.

With the US reportedly spending a billion dollars every year on laser weapons, it appears the Chinese have found a low-cost way to counter the upcoming technology. Adding more power to the lasers would require further research and development, pushing back the US plans to deploy them soon.

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