DragonFire: UK's laser weapon can fire beams at 50kW and beyond

Details of the weapon's capability remain classified though
Ameya Paleja
The laser directed energy weapon developed by the UK
The laser directed energy weapon developed by the UK

Ministry of Defense, UK 

The Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) under the Ministry of Defense (MOD) in the U.K. has successfully completed a trial of its high-powered, long-range laser-directed energy weapon (LDEW), a press release said.

With the increased use of drones and electronic weapons in modern warfare, there is a strong demand for electronic countermeasures. Conventional weapons like rockets and missiles are expensive to manufacture and ineffective and uneconomical against drone swarms, especially those made using off-the-shelf components.

Militaries worldwide are looking for solutions that can be deployed quickly and at least cost per attack, and laser-powered weapons have shown to be the most effective approach so far. Not only can these weapons be fired quickly and accurately, but they also do not require the hassle of stocking and supplying ammunition.

Who has developed the U.K.'s laser weapon?

The development of the laser weapon, dubbed DragonFire, is the culmination of a joint investment to the tune of US$114 million committed by the MOD alongside its industrial partners.

According to the press release, the European multinational manufacturer of missiles, MBDA, has developed the weapon system's advanced command and control (C2) and image processing capabilities and is also responsible for its overall operation.

DragonFire: UK's laser weapon can fire beams at 50kW and beyond
The beam director of the weapon

Italian defense company, Leonardo, has developed the beam director of the system that can track target objects and track them with pinpoint accuracy. In contrast, U.K.-based Qinetiq has based a phased-combined laser that can take down targets. Currently, the laser can generate an output of 50kW, but in the future, the system will be able to scale fire-power levels, the press release said.

U.S.-based defense manufacturer Lockheed Martin has demonstrated that the weapons can also be scaled up to 300kW.

What did the test fire demonstrate?

The test of the high-powered LDEW was conducted at the Porton Down range in Wiltshire county in the U.K. Home to the world's oldest chemical warfare research installation in the world, and the trial involved many targets over several ranges to test the beam director truly, the press release added.

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These demonstrations were meant to help the U.K. increase its understanding of how high-energy lasers and their associated technologies operate over distances and are effective against intended targets.

"DragonFire has already successfully demonstrated an ability to track targets with very high levels of precision and to maintain a laser beam on the selected aim-point," said Ben Maddison, Dstl's Technical Partner, in the press release. "This trial has assessed the performance of the laser itself – the outcome shows that the U.K. has world-leading capability in the technologies associated with laser-directed energy weapons (LDEW) systems."

The DragonFire project has been running in parallel with the MOD's Novel Weapons Programme, which is looking to develop laser and radiofrequency weapons in the changing landscape of battle.

To ensure safety, the tests were contained within the Porton Down Range area, and the trial targets did not exceed 2.11 miles (3.4 km). However, the actual range of the demonstrator and its capabilities remain classified.

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