This question is similar, but only talks about guns. I don't mean a laser that is going to destroy the plane, but why aren't rear-mounted, rear-firing lasers that can blind a pilot a thing? Most of the concerns about weight and relative velocities from the other question disappear with a lighter-weight laser that is firing light.

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    $\begingroup$ Infrared countermeasure (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infrared_countermeasure) or Directional Infrared Counter Measures (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directional_Infrared_Counter_Measures) . $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2019 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ Sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads. Ummm... Planes with frickin' lasers on their tails! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 24, 2019 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ If you ask a similar question on Worldbuilding, phrased different enough as to not be a cross posting (such as "what would be required for a laser..."), you'll get a very different set of answers. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 25, 2019 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ Air-to-air dog-fighting combat a la Top Gun basically doesn't exist anymore. Most of it is done with guided missiles from far beyond visual sight-range, so a laser to blind the pilot behind you would be of limited use. By the time they're close enough for that to be effective, they could've easily shot you out of the sky several times before you even knew they were there. $\endgroup$ Oct 25, 2019 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @J..., actually it's not that simple. This is what I do for a living. The ns laser I mentioned tunes in 0.1nm steps across the entire visible range. In one go, with enough power that a single pulse hitting your windscreen would dazzle you, and directly hitting your retina would leave a blind spot. That's not even optimised for this job (it's an OPG pumped by the third harmonic of a Nd:YAG, for any other laser scientists reading this). The best countermeasure would be a blacked out cockpit, flown by screen, but the cameras probably wouldn't like it either. $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Oct 25, 2019 at 15:43

5 Answers 5


Such weapons are not used by countries that abide by the Geneva Convention:

It is prohibited to employ laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices.

For the U.S.A., page 45 of Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense says: google books screengrab

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    $\begingroup$ @quietflyer it's one reason. Another reason is power requirements. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Oct 25, 2019 at 3:34
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    $\begingroup$ The convention, power requirements, limited usability, lasers being awfully hard to target and the collateral damage of missing the target, there's a lot of reasons not to do this. It's generally more useful to shoot an enemy bird out of the sky than turn it erratic by blinding the personnel. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Oct 25, 2019 at 6:53
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    $\begingroup$ @quietflyer Remember what chemical weapons caused to their survivors in WW1. No-one wants thousands or more blind laser-weapons survivors. And remember, even if you are in a technically advanced country currently mostly fighting developing countries or insurgents with little technology, next time your soldiers maybe those that return home blind. $\endgroup$ Oct 25, 2019 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ @VladimirF: So it's better for thousands to return home in body bags than return home blind? 🤔 $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2019 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @R..: Yes, more or less. The basic idea of The Hague Convention, Geneva Convention and related Treaties is that soldiers are allowed to use weapons that are designed to kill individuals against other soldiers, and that's it. They are not allowed to use weapons against non-combatants, they are not allowed to use weapons that are not directed at individuals (WMDs, basically), and they are not allowed to use weapons that are designed to maim, or injure. This means that the entire arsenal of sub-lethal weapons that are available to police officers are off-limits for soldiers. $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2019 at 22:11

Besides the other answers, international law and the technical complexity of putting a laser on an airframe, lasers have interesting limitations as weapons. Lasers do not deal well with cloud cover. Hundreds of meters of cloud cover between two planes flying on instruments disrupts a laser's coherency, but not a guided missile's accuracy. After passing through a significant amount of cloud vapor, the laser will not have enough energy to damage the target or blind the pilot. You can imagine how unappealing spending money on a weapons system that is made useless by clouds is.

Another factor is that modern air combat is rarely 1 plane vs 1 plane. Ground radar, AWACS planes, satellites, and allied aircraft all work together. It does you no good to blind a single opponent if ground radar has locked on to you, because modern systems can pass that lock to missile launchers and other aircraft. Now anyone in range can launch a guided missile at you, a guided missile you can't blind.

As more airplanes become drone piloted, blinding the drone's cameras will not stop the operator from retaliating against you, because the drone's radar and other instruments are still functional.

So why spend money to solve a problem that is only tangentially related to your real problem? The problem is not that another pilot is in the sky. The problem is them being able to lock on to you with guided missiles, or even know you are around. If you have technology that prevents their missiles from acquiring an accurate lock, launching missiles is just a waste of money.


The Geneva Convention only addresses permanent blinding. Temporary blinding is all it would take to render an enemy pilot unable to react for at least long enough for you to employ evasive maneuvers and/or come around for an offensive. That said, one wouldn't even need a laser. Any sufficiently bright LED array would do the job.

Of course, this assumes the enemy pilot isn't equipped with any kind of eye protection.

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    $\begingroup$ It would need to be extremely bright, modern engagements happen over distances of several kilometers. But it is technically possible. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 25, 2019 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ Other than the minor statement in the last sentence this doesn't seem to answer the question. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Oct 26, 2019 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ That would be the instant retort of the adversary, a filter on their goggles or cockpit window. $\endgroup$ Oct 28, 2019 at 2:21

In addition to the already mentioned Geneva convention, there is also the power requirements issue.

Lasers powerful enough for combat weapons require more electrical power than can be generated by a fighter (one reason why the YAL-1 was based on a Boeing 747).

Also, high power lasers generate a lot of heat. Heat dispersal in a small airframe is difficult, especially if you want to minimize your IR signature.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there a reason to believe that the power or space requirements for the YAL-1, designed to intercept ICBMs during their boost phase, would be comparable to the requirements for a laser designed to illegally blind enemy pilots who are presumably in a dogfight with you? $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Oct 25, 2019 at 5:39
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    $\begingroup$ That really depends what you mean by combat weapon. Will it cut through the plane's hull? Doubtful, that indeed requires a lot of energy. But there are enough accounts of idiots blinding pilots with a laser pointer from their home. It only takes 1W to cause serious damage. $\endgroup$ Oct 25, 2019 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ You can buy a laser pointer that can blind an airline pilot on Ebay for less than $50 that runs off of AA batteries $\endgroup$ Oct 25, 2019 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ There's a difference between "oops, we accidentally broke the Geneva Convention because we couldn't keep our weapon on target long enough to kill the pilot instead of just maim them wink" and "this weapon can only be used to violate the Geneva Convention." -- To have a blinding laser without immediate sanctions, such a weapon system would have to be plausible as an anti-vehicle weapon as well, hence the very high energy requirements. (Though heat dispersal isn't as much of an issue as implied. If you can deal with jet exhaust, you can deal with a laser weapon.) $\endgroup$
    – Ghedipunk
    Oct 25, 2019 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ @curiousguy It's easier to point a laser at something than it is to hit it with something physical. Adjustments are instant. Missiles will have proximity fuses to increase the chance of a kill via shrapnel, but we've had long had laser designators that can lock on and track small moving objects. $\endgroup$
    – ceejayoz
    Oct 26, 2019 at 16:15

Because weapons of mass destruction are maintained and developed, the Geneva Convention might not be respected much during wartime.

Also, F-35s and F-22s have been mentioned in articles proposing laser weapons systems:



If ignoring the Geneva Convention, I'm not sure how effective such a weapons system would be. Wouldn't it be rather trivial to mitigate most or all of the damage by the enemy pilot, once such an imagined laser system is known to be used? The pilot would merely need to wear protective laser goggles or use other means of limiting the amount of light that enters the eye. The cost of developing the laser weapons system, compared with cost of the protection against it (laser goggles) doesn't seem to add up.

Also, an aircraft that sends out a continuous hundreds-of-kilowatt laser beam towards your own sensors provides an attractive target for your own missile.

You might impair the other pilot's visual flight when the beam is on, but looking down at the instruments to fire a missile should be possible when sufficient eye laser protection is worn.

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    $\begingroup$ A laser beam in the range of hundreds of kilowatts of continuous power is far beyond blinding. Solar irradiance is in the realm of 1.4kW/m^2 and unmitigated direct sun exposure is already a problem for many kinds of sensors; the kinds of mitigations you can take to prevent those sensors from being blinded outright go on to impact the sensors' ability to detect things that aren't as bright. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Oct 27, 2019 at 1:53

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