Defence researchers achieve “first UK high-power laser air defence system engagement”

During a trial at the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD’s) Hebrides Range, the DragonFire laser directed energy weapon (LDEW) system achieved the UK’s first high-power firing of a laser weapon against aerial targets, according to a UK government press statement. The range of DragonFire is classified, but it is a line-of-sight weapon and can engage with any visible target.

“DragonFire exploits UK technology to be able to deliver a high power laser over long ranges. The precision required is equivalent to hitting a UKP1 coin from a kilometre away. Laser-directed energy weapons can engage targets at the speed of light, and use an intense beam of light to cut through the target, leading to structural failure or more impactful results if the warhead is targeted.

“Firing it for 10 seconds is the cost equivalent of using a regular heater for just an hour. Therefore, it has the potential to be a long-term low-cost alternative to certain tasks missiles currently carry out. The cost of operating the laser is typically less than UKP10 per shot.

DragonFire is led by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), on behalf of the UK MOD, working with its industry partners MBDA, Leonardo and QinetiQ.

“This milestone demonstrated the ability to engage aerial targets at relevant ranges and is a major step in bringing this technology into service. Both the Army and Royal Navy are considering using this technology as part of their future Air Defence capabilities.”

“The latest milestone builds on a series of highly successful trials, including the first static high-power laser firing of a sovereign UK capability and demonstration of the DragonFire system’s ability to track moving air and sea targets with very high accuracy at range. Building on this research, the MOD recently announced its intention to fund a multi-million-pound programme to transition the technology from the research environment to the battlefield.

“The latest trial was sponsored by the MOD’s Defence Science and Technology (DST) organisation and Strategic Programmes and enabled by many other agencies across government, ensuring all regulatory and safety approval requirements were satisfied. The DragonFire weapon system is the result of a UKP100 million joint investment by the Ministry of Defence and industry. Together, the companies involved are supporting highly-skilled UK jobs in new cutting-edge technologies that are delivering a significant step-change in the UK’s capability in LDEW systems.

“In 2017 the MOD’s Chief Scientific Advisor’s Research Programme awarded a UKP30 million contract to the DragonFire consortium to demonstrate the potential of LDEWs.”

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