Russia has equipped the new Gorshkov-class frigates with a weapon that can cause temporary blindness in an opponent. It works on distances up to two kilometers. That reports RIA Novosti.
The system is called 5P-42 “Filin”, and it works by creating a powerful oscillating light beam which disturbs the ability of an observer to see anything. My interpretation is that it is a really big laser dazzler which causes flash blindness for the victim. It works equally well against electronic sensors and human vision, and it is intended for use in dark conditions. The literal meaning of the word “Filin” is “owl”, which ironically is an animal with an impressive night vision.
While it sounds really scary that the Russians can blind the crews on other ships, Filin is probably best understood as a missile countermeasure system. It can work in both the infrared and the visual light spectrum, so it can possibly defeat a missile which uses these guidance mechanisms. It is also possible to imagine situations where it can be useful as a defensive tool against asymmetric attacks from small boats or drones. A foreign warship will rarely get close enough to be within range of the system.
5P-42 “Filin” is produced by Roselektronika. They also produce versions of the weapon for use on land, and there it is easier to imagine that it will be used against personnel. For example they have a smaller unit for law enforcement purposes that can blind subjects on distances up to 500-700 meters in a 10-15 degrees angle.
Apparently, Roselektronika has tested Filin thoroughly on a group of volunteers. The subjects reported that it was impossible to aim at a target that was covered by Filin due to the fact that the target was not visible. 20 percent of the volunteers experienced hallucinating effects in the form of floating spots of light before the eyes. 45 percent complained about giddiness, nausea, and disorientation. I don’t know who these volunteers are, but I would caution against signing up for such experiments. While the effects are supposed to be temporary, there are cases of permanent damage when the equipment is used improperly.
Russia is not the only country investing in laser technology. The United States also aims to equip their ships with laser dazzlers in the near future. The Americans take it one step further by also including a high-power function to destroy smaller targets like UAVs and fast inshore attack craft rather than causing temporary blindness. Laser technology develops exponentially these years, and sooner rather than later it will be integrated in missile defense systems on both ships and elsewhere.