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The UK Ministry of Defence has officially awarded a £30m contract to produce a prototype laser weapon, known as Dragonfire.

The MoD have announced that a £30 million deal for a new British laser weapon system, for use on land and at sea, has been finalised.

The contract was awarded to ‘UK Dragonfire’ a consortium comprising the companies MBDA, Qinetiq, Leonardo-Finmeccanica GKN, Arke, BAE Systems and Marshall ADG UK.

According to the MoD the programme will develop technologies for a high energy defensive laser weapon system in the 50kW class.

The Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) Capability Demonstrator is set to be built by MBDA UK Ltd and a prototype delivered by 2019.

The prototype system will be capable of engaging representative targets in land and maritime environments in 2019. The programme will also provide the body of evidence for future procurement decisions.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:

“The UK has long enjoyed a reputation as a world leader in innovation. Our new Innovation Initiative will transform Defence culture to ensure that we stay ahead of the curve.”

According to the Ministry of Defence:

“A novel laser weapon could complement or replace existing weapons systems with the potential for significant benefits. It could be employed to protect our maritime and land forces; for example, ships from threat missiles or soldiers from enemy mortars.”

MBDA UK Ltd will assess how the system can acquire and track targets at range and in varying weather conditions over land and water, with sufficient precision to enable safe and effective engagement.

According to MBDA in a press release:

“UK DRAGONFIRE will achieve, through the Laser Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) Capability Demonstrator, a significant step change in the UK’s capability in High Energy Laser Weapon Systems and will provide the basis for technology-driven operational advantage. The programme will mature the key technologies for a high energy defensive laser weapon system and will include the engagement of representative targets in land and maritime environments in 2019. The programme will also provide the body of evidence for future procurement decisions.

UK DRAGONFIRE is a collaborative consortium led MBDA with QinetiQ and Leonardo-Finmeccanica that has brought together the best of relevant UK industry expertise to deliver the highly challenging and complex programme. The team also capitalises on the strengths of the individual companies involved, which includes GKN, Arke, BAE Systems and Marshall ADG.

This proposal builds on the significant MoD and Industry investment in the areas of laser coherent beam combining, weapon systems command and control, advanced pointing systems and high power storage.”

Welcoming the announcement, Dave Armstrong Executive Group Director Technical and UK Managing Director of MBDA said:

“Under MBDA lead, UK DRAGONFIRE will put the UK at the forefront of high energy laser systems, capitalising on the experience of joint MoD/Industry working in the complex weapons environment. Furthermore it advances the UK towards a future product with significant export potential, as well as providing opportunities for partnerships with other nations’ armed forces that have similar requirements.”

Steve Wadey, QinetiQ Chief Executive Officer said:

“This programme is a great example of companies pooling expertise to provide the MoD with the best solution. QinetiQ will provide the high-powered laser system that will be used in the test, as well as conducting the trial itself at one of the ranges we manage for the MoD as part of the Long Term Partnering Agreement.

It’s an opportunity for us to provide innovative technology, and use our testing and evaluation expertise to ensure a successful demonstration.”

Raytheon, a rival bidder, had showed a possible configuration with a laser and the 20mm Phalanx fitted alongside a radar and optronics. This image is shown above.

The Royal Navy already widely uses the Phalanx across its fleet.

The “directed energy weapon” will be able to fire high energy beams to damage and burn up targets at the cost of only pence per shot.

This news will see Britain join the laser weapons arms race after America has already deployed a laser to the Gulf on one of its own warships.

Laser Weapon System on USS Ponce in the Gulf

America deployed a working laser weapon system on board USS Ponce in the Gulf last year. The laser has been successfully tested shooting down drone aircraft and burning up small attacking boats, or at lower power to “dazzle” sensors and instruments.

The AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System reportedly worked perfectly, indeed the commander of the Ponce is authorised to use the system as a defensive weapon.

Energy weapons are an increasing focus for defence firms and expected to become more common on the battlefield in the next decade.

If successful, the first laser weapons would come into service in the mid-2020s.

37 COMMENTS

  1. Laser weapons require high levels of electrical power. I wonder how the T45s will be able to cope given there well known electrical problems.

    • A few hundred kW of power is quite easily managed.

      An off the shelf, 3 phase diesel generator supplying 1MVA of power will happily fit in a standard 6m container. I don’t think this will pose an issue.

    • t 45 problems are 50% fabricated rubbish spoon fed to the media, my son is on the duncan which has had problems since comissioning to the fleet, he is saying a laser weapon will have its own dedicated power generaton possibly solar powered. i just hope they work!

    • We probably have been cooperating. if you check the web, there are academic papers going back to the 80s referring to US and UK collaboration in this field. And those are only the ones in the public domain.

    • £30 million is a splash in the ocean, anyway the USA has their own laser weapon. The Dragonfire could have a huge export potential also.

      • As I understand it, the laser weapon on the US warship has been used twice already. How many times have Harpoons ever been fired in anger?

        They are for different missions and I can see why this laser weapon may be needed considering its intended purpose. To cheaply destroy, cheap threats like UAV’s and other small water/air craft.

        None of this is to say we don’t need a Harpoon replacement and quickly, but It seems an easy thing to say that this £30 million should have been spent on or towards some kind of Harpoon is stop-gap, instead of a new weapon system, but I don’t feel it a fair comparison.

        • Tell that to our young men and women we are asking to potentially go into harms way without any capacity to sink an enemy ship for the next 10yrs – unless they are kind enough to sail within deck gun range. The fact that Harpoon hasn’t been fired in anger is no reason to not have it. As stated on this site many times before – is the fact the nuclear deterrent hasn’t been used a reason to not have it?? I think not. Issue is priorities.

          • You speak of priorities, but isn’t it better to defend against a threat that our service people are likely to face over the next ten years for a relatively cheap price?
            Considering the cost of actually replacing harpoon, this £30 million isn’t going to have any impact on that. And who in the next ten years are we likely going to need Harpoon against? I understand you can’t know the future. It is better to be prepared and I did say I feel we should have a harpoon successor as soon as possible, but budgets lead to tough choices.
            We don’t have the luxury of having everything we want. Over the next ten years we will have a fleet with a credible capacity to sink ships in our Astute submarines. We have an excellent air and point defense capability in our Type 45’s. An excellent anti-submarine capability with our Type 23-26, the capability to project power with the carriers armed with stealth fighters and an at sea nuclear deterrent.

            We have a lot of world class capability and will be able to do some things only a handle full of other nations can.

            This is not a perfect situation and the government must shoulder a lot of the blame, but what other country can boast this much, on a similar budget? It’s easy to discredit and ridicule, but that achieves nothing.

        • American here – most U.S. DDGs don’t have harpoon launchers either. The SM-2 can act as a anti-ship missile in a pinch. It lacks the punch of the harpoon, but is probably good enough for a mission kill.

          My guess is that the Brit equivalent Aster missiles might have the same capability.

          Also – it’s doubtfull a British destroyer is going to be in a position of needing to take a long range shot at a enemy ship w/o the support of the U.S., and without the support of any air cover from either a U.S. Nimitz, or the QE when it finally gets commissioned.

    • Harpoon is offensive but the laser is defensive.

      One harpoon missile costs about GBP1m. So for the cost of the development budget you’d buy 30 of them. Once installed the defensive benefits at such a relatively low operational cost are obvious. It shifts the economics of warfare dramatically. Imagine a layered defensive system that is virtually impenetrable to current and potentially future threats, that costs pittance to operate versus an offensive system that costs a fortune.

      The equivalent offensive system is surely the rail gun, something that both the US and the UK have been developing for ages.

  2. A miserable 30 million to develop technologies the US had a decade or more ago. And this will make the UK a world leader?

    Gimme a break.

    By the way, a 50 KW laser isn’t anywhere near powerful enough to shoot down mortar shells or any other kind of shell. Might burn a hole in a slow, black rubber, dinghy on a sunny day in a flat calm.

      • My guess the laser generator in that case was very close to the steel and the laser beam was maybe an inch at most and probably took some time to do the job. A military laser needs to reach i guess a km or more and needs to be effective fast, considering how fast the target could be incoming, meaning many many many multiples of the 5kw machine

        • Perhaps, as I recall a laser will remain coherent for hundreds of km. Maintaining focus on the object under attack is in large part what this £30m is about. Losses will of course increase with distance due to dissipation in the atmosphere but I doubt we’re talking about tens of kw.

          Yes the cutting took a few seconds but if one is drilling then its somewhat quicker, plus you’re not interested in obtaining a nice finish, just punching a hole in the thing.

          Additionally I’m not sure one needs a sustained 50kW. Lasers can deliver many MW of power (energy / time) when pulsed. Since the rate of pulsing is so high one doesn’t need a lot of energy to generate high MW outputs – and this is what I would have thought is needed to punch holes in objects.

          • Nathan, I suggest you do some research into military lasers instead of pulling guesses and assumptions out of your arse.

      • Nath, how close was the sheet steel to the laser? How fast was it moving?

        As close as a missile and as fast? I don’t think so.

        • Rób, why don’t u stfu and post something useful. At least I’m contributing to the debate.
          Waste of space comments like ur help no one and make life a misery.
          So just f.o. and leave the rest of us to get on with our lives in peace.
          PS. U do the f.ing research if ur so possessed of the issue and post ur findings here so we can all learn something rather than suffer ur bs.

        • That’s it’s purpose; it’s for use against asymmetric warfare targets, like small boats, by targeting their outboard engine, or drones, or even helicopters by targeting engines. It’s not meant for use against fast moving missiles or mortars or shells. It’s designed to make fighting back against smaller slower moving targets more cost effective. A single shot using a laser is only say £1 instead of 10 or 100s of thousands using more traditional point defence systems.

          • A bullet would be even cheaper. And it would work in the rain.

            The Ponce system is for research, it’s not a weapon.

  3. We had laser technology secretly rushed into service on our ships and deployed in the falklands in 1982 ! We have been working on this stuff for years along with USA

  4. I believe it is important for our Royal Navy to be kept up to date with all developments in the weapons industries. Other nations may develop advanced systems, which may render our current systems obsolete. Consider the implications of no radar research before 1940! However I am also concerned that the cost of such projects can spiral out of control.
    Agreed we must ensure that our vessels are equipped with adequate means to detroy enemy vessels. Or (no offence) have we all lost the plot here? A stable weapons platform with the ability to detect and destroy any potential threat, which also has the capability to protect itself and any other assets from enemy attack is all that is required and all that has ever been required. It is of the upmost importance that our vessels are equipped to combat future threats, as well as the current ones. It is also very naive to expect allies to remain always as such, as political change can turn friend to foe.
    “Si vis pacem, para bellum” my friends!

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