Moscow says it is using a new generation of powerful lasers in Ukraine to burn up drones, deploying some of the country's secret weapons to counter a flood of Western arms.

"This is not some sort of exotic idea; it is the reality," says Russian Deputy PM Yuri Borisov. (AP)

Russia has begun using the prototype of a new laser weapon in Ukraine that is capable of hitting a target 5 kilometres away, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, as Western arms flood Ukraine.

The state news agency Tass quoted Borisov as saying on national television on Wednesday that the prototype of a new laser weapon was tested on Tuesday against a drone, incinerating it within five seconds.

Borisov said a new generation of laser weapons will eventually allow Russia to conserve its expensive long-range missiles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 unveiled an intercontinental ballistic missile, underwater nuclear drones, a supersonic weapon and a laser weapon.

Little is known about the specifics of the new laser. 

Putin mentioned one called Peresvet, named after a medieval Orthodox warrior monk Alexander Peresvet who perished in mortal combat.

Borisov told a conference in Moscow that Peresvet was already being widely deployed and it could blind satellites up to 1,500 km above Earth.

He said there were already more powerful systems than Peresvet that could burn up drones and other equipment.

"If Peresvet blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons lead to the physical destruction of the target –– thermal destruction, they burn up," he told Russian state television.

Asked if such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: "Yes. The first prototypes are already being used there." He said the weapon was called "Zadira".

'Failure of the mission'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mockingly compared news of the lasers to the so-called wonder weapons that Nazi Germany unveiled in a bid to prevent defeat in World War Two.

"The clearer it became that they had no chance in the war, the more propaganda there was about an amazing weapon that would be so powerful as to ensure a turning point," he said in a late-night video address.

"And so we see that in the third month of a full-scale war, Russia is trying to find its 'wonder weapon' ... this all clearly shows the complete failure of the mission."

Almost nothing is publicly known about Zadira but in 2017 Russian media said state nuclear corporation Rosatom helped develop it as part of a programme to create weapons-based new physical principles.

The offensive on Ukraine has illustrated the limits of Russia's post-Soviet conventional armed forces, though Putin says the "special military operation" is going to plan.

Replace conventional weapons

Borisov's remarks indicate Russia has made significant progress with laser weapons, a trend of considerable interest to other nuclear powers such as the United States and China.

Using lasers to blind satellites was once a fantasy from the realm of science fiction, but the United States, China and Russia have been working on variants of such weapons for years.

Besides the benefit of burning up drones, blinding reconnaissance systems have a strategic impact too as satellites are used to monitor intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear weapons.

Borisov said he had just returned from Sarov, which is a centre of Russia's nuclear weapons research. He said a new generation of laser weapons using a wide electromagnetic band would ultimately replace conventional weapons.

"This is not some sort of exotic idea; it is the reality," Borisov said.

Source: Reuters