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.
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.