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The new laser weapon demonstrator being built for the UK Ministry of Defence has been unveiled for the first time by the UK Dragonfire consortium at DSEI 2017 in London.

Led by MBDA, under contract to Dstl, UK Dragonfire is a grouping key players in the defence industry brought together to develop this new system for the UK Armed Forces.

For the first time, the consortium has revealed the design of the turret – known as a beam director – that will be used to trial this new technology. The beam director, which will be provided by Leonardo, brings together QinetiQ’s powerful laser emitter, as well as electro-optics for target identification and tracking. MBDA say it is bringing weapon system delivery experience and advanced weapon system command and control (C2) and image processing capability to UK Dragonfire, in addition to coordinating the overall effort.

The full-scale beam director is present at UK Dragonfire’s stand, at ND4 in the Naval Static Display Area. Half-scale models are also present on the stands of Leonardo, MBDA and QinetiQ.

Known as the Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) Capability Demonstrator Programme (CDP), the effort will see UK Dragonfire trial this new system in the maritime and land domains in 2019.

Among the uses of LDEW systems are providing very short-range air defence capability, close-in protection for naval vessels, counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and protecting friendly forces from mortar and artillery attack.

A key benefit of the Dragonfire LDEW technology according to MBDA is that the base system is highly adaptable and its effects are highly scaleable. As such it offers a range of different engagement solutions depending on the tactical scenario, these include tracking, deterring, dazzling the sensors of a potential threat, up to damaging or destroying it.

UK Dragonfire was awarded a £30 million contract for the LDW CDP in early 2017 after a rigorous competitive evaluation. The team capitalises on the strengths of all the companies involved, including Leonardo, QinetiQ, MBDA, Arke, BAE Systems, Marshall and GKN.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Exciting new development, if the UK is to have a manufacturing future it is products like these that will provide it. Rather than wishful thinking about how many light frigates we can export into an already ferociously competitive market in which we be unable to compete due to our high cost low productivity base.

    • its time we supported home ‘innovations too much experience and cunning brainpower is leached, and normally is ‘poached by other nations (u.s.) who then sell our own technology back to us. dragonfire could be one of the biggest revolutions in warfare since the torpedo, it should recieve the support and backing to match that assumption. the assumption of export is a completely different thing than a frigates drawings.the two are entirely at odds. a penny per shot with a laser compared to god knows what for an aster missile. these look like small easily fitted modules which if as good as expected could turn a fishing boat into a destroyer at the flick of a switch.systems fitted say to the q.e could totally change the perception of the ships defence capability. high cost, ow delivery?look at the fiasco which is the f 35 24 planes by 2023! and we are dim enough to fall for it. if the u.k. wants the best, it has to go the extra half mile to get it. what if the harrier had been binned because it was a freak and waste of time the falkland islanders would be speaking spanish.

  2. From what I’ve read of other systems this isn’t quite the Star Trek stuff that some might imagine though is it? Other systems that I’ve read about need to track a target quite accurately and keep the laser focussed on it for quite a while (some seconds) to get enough heat energy into it to do damage. Is that the case here or is it really a much quicker zap-and-it’s gone type of thing?

    Also on this subject, is it true that the RN had an experimental weapon deployed in the Falklands war? I think I saw or read somewhere that there was a classified weapon on one of the ships, mostly kept under covers, that (I think) was designed to blind enemy pilots. Am I imagining or mis-remembering that?

    • The UK did deploy lasers on warships during the Falklands war 1982, these were quite primitive and limited in use.

      They were used to dazzle the pilots flying at very low levels directly towards the warship, in the hope he would be unable to continue his flight path or crash into the sea.

    • You are correct. Big boxy thing on a bridge wing. I remember reading an article were an Argentinian pilot described being dazzled on his attack run

  3. With an American system already in service/trials aren’t we entering an already competitive market? Could we not just buy COTS and save R&D cash??

      • Actually, sorry to add this – but the main reason we were a Tier1 partner on F35 and will enjoy the corresponding economic benefits is because we did the upfront R&D on Project Replica (I believe) this was a scaled stealth model that gave us the knowhow to build our own system and got our foot in the Lockheed martin door. Additionally it was this research that probably won us the support contract to TIA to help develop their next generation stealth fighter.
        It is this somewhat speculative research which without obvious economic benefit at the time, which has given up 15% of the largest ever military sales project of all time and this follow up work.
        Knowledge is power and in the knowledge economy it is wealth and jobs. If we want power, wealth and jobs then we need to invest in the knowledge.

    • invest in britain not the u.s who would take years to deliver the f 35? 24 f 35’s for the r.n by 2023?and we are mugsenough to fall for it at millions a pop.

      • Our involvement in the F35 project as a tier one partner is one of few commercial successes of UK defence industry. 15% of every every F35 made in the UK on a production run of over 3000 aircraft, that is a fantastic deal for the UK.

        The failure to order sufficient F35 for the UK is due to our chronic financial situation resulting from the mismanagement of the UK economy since 2000.

      • Hi Andy,
        The F-35 really is a step change in capability and one so huge we would never have been able to deliver on our own.
        In this instance our partnership approach will deliver far more work and jobs for the UK than the value of our entire order by a factor of at least three.
        That expertise means UK provides c30% of the new Grippen and is a world leader in advanced aerospace technologies.

  4. All investment decisions need careful consideration, they should be selective, evidence based minimise risk whilst maximising opportunities. Of course there will always be an element of risk and there are also be financial constraints, there will be many failures but there also be some winners. The winners, if managed correctly, will generate cash and jobs in the UK thereby providing the resources for further development for the next generation of technology.

    I don’t hold with the notion we throw money at everything, that is the road to financial ruin and commercial failure.

  5. Laser weapons in the maritime environment are problematic in use. Due to atmospheric conditions and moisture there are only small windows of use for optical IR and UV wavelength lasers. Because of the way water molecules absorb light, range and power on a target are greatly reduced when compared to a land based laser.
    (A laser tested in the dry deserts of White Sands Test Area in the States does not have the same effectiveness at sea.)
    That said tracking a target is straight forward using existing optical tracking systems.
    You don’t need to continuously lase a target to put the power on it. Its usually best to pulse the laser many hundreds of times a second . That way the energy in the beam “hammers” the structure of a target causing shock, damage and distortion and eventually burn through.
    Dragonfire is a 50Kw (ish) laser so imagine getting hit 100 times a second with 50Kw of power.

    Yes we did have lasers in the Falklands and Gulf. It was called Chevage. A big industrial laser on a stand which you looked to dazzle a target with. It was a bit Heath Robinson in nature. You literally pulled on a bicycle brake handle to uncover the emitter lens to allow the beam out. It was a nice blue green as I remember.

    • Remember Chevage, chilled water for it came from No 1 ATU on a T-22. We “fired” ours on bonfire night, livened up the display!

  6. This looks good. Fit to QE class carriers, Albion LPDs and type 45s asap. We need a technological advantage over our more numerous potential enemies.

  7. That £30m could have been used to buy (not rent!) 10 ScanEagle systems. Enough for all our deployed warships. A big lift in capability now to help keep our service personel safe, and not some fancy development contract that will probably do nothing more than keep some civilians employed.

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