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.

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Mike Saul

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

Nath

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.

andy reeves

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!

Harry Nelson

Can we afford £30 million?? Why not collaborate with the US who already have a system in operation?

Nath

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.

William Culshaw

£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.

Michael Shaw

Indeed, I would love to see Canada with these on our dd/ffg.

Dan

£30 million for this but no funds to replace Harpoon….

David

….. exactly Dan – and which is needed more urgently??

Jeff

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… Read more »

David

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.

Jeff

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… Read more »

Matt

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… Read more »

Nath

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.

[…] Plus d’infos (en anglais) : ukdefencejournal.org.uk. […]

Will

What happens if the enemy uses shiney missiles?

Ron5

or it’s raining.

Dave B Philips

I don’t know Ron, it seems like the industry is crying out for an expert in laser technology. It seems like you fit the bill!

Ron5

One of the bigger problems with lasers is that, unlike light sabers, their beams don’t stop. So if you’re shooting at a missile and miss, you might hit a ship, an aircraft or even a satellite that’s in the path. More than likely, one of yours.

andy reeves

mass issue of ray bans for all!

Ron5

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.

Nath

Im no expert but I did laser cutting of sheet steel at uni on a 5kw machine

andy reeves

maybe another career option for you

Steve

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

Nathan

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… Read more »

Ron5

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

Ron5

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.

Nath

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.

Richard

The laser system on the USS Ponce is in the 50Kw class.

Ron5

… and it can sink slow black rubber dinghy’s and toy drones.

Richard

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.

Ron5

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

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

Evan P

Bullets aren’t as cheap though. Laser technology has huge potential – it may be the only way to destroy the hypersonic missiles of the future. Bullets aren’t going to cut it forever. It’s not for toy drones either, I think you are deliberately ignoring a very capable weapons platform here, and one that is only going to become more capable in the decades to come. The article also says that the commander of USS Ponce is authorised to use the laser as a defensive weapon – the keyword there being weapon, so not just for testing. xx

Andy Crisp

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

Ron5

Totally different application. Read some history books.

Andy Crisp

But the point is in 82 the technology might have been good enough to dazzle ! Now it’s good enough to destroy

Ron5

Was it actually used in 1982?

pete

Yes. and one famous case of argi pilot being blinded but being guided back by Atc and landed on mainland. remarkable.

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,… Read more »

[…] G. (2017) Dragonfire, the new British laser weapon. Available at: https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/dragonfire-new-british-laser-weapon/ (Accessed: February […]

Gary

We used lasers in the first Gulf war. HMS York had them for dazzling aircraft. It was crude but worked. Someone here said we have never fired Harpoon in anger. Yes we have! They were used to sink the Iraqi patrol boats with devastating effect. The threat in future is drones and super sonic missiles. The Russians have developed a Mach 4 missile. That’s unstoppable as of today so any future systems need to be able to deal with that threat.

Kevin

Seaceptor has already been fitted to Montrose it’s now the most powerfully armed Frigate we have. Others will follow.

Dan

Love all the Nom Com comments by so many people who wouldn’t even fight for a country let alone their own. Who apparently know more about the armed forces than those who serve. Who understand more about what we need than the people who use them. Please feel free to join us and give us your guidance!

[…] This week VFP deployed a covert search team into the Excel Centre to record what was being sold and promoted at the DSEi Arms Fair. Among the many stands our team found on display a prototype laser weapon system in the 50kW class, known as Dragonfire. […]

[…] on the Ponce. The United Kingdom is spending £30 million to build a 50-⁠kW laser called Dragonfire, and Japan is investigating fiber lasers to block attacks by short-range rockets as well as North […]

[…] on the Ponce. The United Kingdom is spending £30 million to build a 50-⁠kW laser called Dragonfire, and Japan is investigating fiber lasers to block attacks by short-range rockets as well as North […]

[…] on the Ponce. The United Kingdom is spending £30 million to build a 50-⁠kW laser called Dragonfire, and Japan is investigating fiber lasers to block attacks by short-range rockets as well as North […]

[…] on the Ponce. The United Kingdom is spending £30 million to build a 50-⁠kW laser called Dragonfire, and Japan is investigating fiber lasers to block attacks by short-range rockets as well as North […]

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[…] Британия потратит £30 млн на постройку 50 кВт лазера Dragonfire, а Япония изучает возможность использования […]