The US Navy has previously experimented with laser weapons

Contract for next generation laser weapon awarded

Image credit: US Navy

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has awarded £30m to an international defence consortium to build a prototype laser weapon that could shoot down drones and missiles.

The 50kW laser system, dubbed the Dragonfire, will be developed by a consortium led by European defence firm MBDA in cooperation with Qinetiq and Leonardo-Finmeccanica.

The MoD has been finalising the contract for several months. Now it hopes to have a prototype ready for tests by 2019. The system, officially called the Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW), is being considered for deployment by military forces operating both on land and sea by the mid-2020s.

“This is a significant demonstration programme aimed at maturing our understanding of what is still an immature technology,” said Peter Cooper from the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

“It draws on innovative research into high-power lasers so as to understand the potential of the technology to provide a more effective response to the emerging threats that could be faced by UK armed forces.”

During the 2019 demonstration, the military will assess how accurately the laser weapon can pick up and track targets at various ranges and in various weather conditions over land and water.

Although the MOD has not specified how it plans to use Dragonfire, the system is expected to be capable of shooting down drones and missiles, as well as destroying bombs and other targets. The main advantage of the laser weapon is the fact that it doesn’t require too much preparation before using and hits targets as soon as the button is pushed.

“The UK has long enjoyed a reputation as a world leader in innovation and it is truly ground-breaking projects like the Laser Directed Energy Weapon, which will keep this country ahead of the curve,” said Harriet Baldwin, Minister for Defence Procurement.

“The MoD’s investment in such innovative solutions demonstrates how the government’s £178bn equipment plan, supported by a rising Defence budget, is ensuring our Armed Forces have the most effective and innovative capability available.”

No military in the world is currently using laser weapons. The US has been experimenting with the technology for decades but no system has so far been used in combat.

An experimental laser gun called Lews was used in 2014 aboard USS Ponce in the Arabian Gulf. The gun hit targets aboard a small boat, which was directed to speed towards the navy ship. The system also shot a small drone out of the sky.


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