Back in the early 80s, Soviet engineers began outfitting an Ilyushin-76 jet with a laser cannon. Two models of the “Falcon-Echelon” planes were flown — presumably as counterweights to U.S. efforts to construct a fleet of missile-zapping jets. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Falcon-Echelon program perished, as well.
Or so it seemed at the time. Now, there’s mounting evidence that the Russian military has revived the Soviet-era laser project. And in this new incarnation, according to The Space Review, the ray gun is aimed up — toward American satellites.
In many ways, the Beriev A-60 is reminiscent of the Airborne Laser Test Bed, the U.S. military’s laser-equipped 747 jet. Both planes feature a bulbous nose and odd-looking bumps in the fuselage. The ALTB’s nose opens up to give the ray gun inside a free path to blast oncoming missiles.
The A-60’s nose doesn’t seem to have any openings, however. Instead, there’s a “large bulge on the upper back of the aircraft [that] is apparently a sliding port for a 1-megawatt laser turret,” space historian Dwayne A. Day writes for The Review. “The laser is clearly intended to fire up, at something above the plane, rather than to the sides or down, to engage ground targets or other aircraft.”