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Military laser DragonFire achieves first successful test firing

23 Jan 2024

Energy weapon system is UK’s first high-power source against aerial targets.

The UK military has developed a laser weapon that could support the country’s Armed Forces with greater accuracy while reducing the reliance on high-cost ammunition has reached its next milestone.

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

“DragonFire exploits UK technology to be able to deliver a high power laser over long ranges,” The MoD stated on Janury 19th, added, “The precision required is equivalent to hitting a £1 coin from a kilometer distant.”

Laser-directed energy weapons can engage targets with an intense beam of light to damage it, leading to structural failure or more impactful results if a warhead is targeted.

Firing a laser weapon for 10 seconds is the cost equivalent of using a regular room 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 £10 (&12.70) per shot, said the MoD.

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

The statement added, “This achievement demonstrated the ability to engage aerial targets at relevant ranges and is a major step in bringing this technology into service. Both the [British] Army and Royal Navy are considering using this technology as part of their future arms portfolio.

Defense capabilities

UK Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps commented: “This type of cutting-edge weaponry has the potential to revolutionize the battle space by reducing the reliance on expensive ammunition, while also lowering the risk of collateral damage.

“Investments with industry partners in advanced technologies like DragonFire are crucial in a highly contested world, helping us maintain the battle-winning edge and keep the nation safe,” he said.

The capability 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 high accuracy at range.

Building on this research, the MoD recently announced its intention to fund a multi-million-pound program “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.

Dstl’s Chief Executive, Dr Paul Hollinshead commented, “These trials have seen us take a huge step forward in realising the potential opportunities and understanding the threats posed by directed energy weapons. With our decades of knowledge, skills, and operational experience, Dstl’s expertise is critical to helping the armed forces prepare for the future.

The DragonFire weapon system is the result of a £100 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 £30 million ($38 million) contract to the DragonFire consortium to demonstrate the potential of LDEWs.

Dr Nick Joad, of Dstl said, “This is a really innovative application of science and engineering and is the fruit of sustained investment and effort. DragonFire uses cutting-edge science and technology and delivers much greater performance than other systems of a similar class. DragonFire provides a step-change in our ability to deal with high-performance and low-cost threats.

Shimon Fhima, Director Strategic Programmes for the MoD said, “The DragonFire trials at the Hebrides demonstrated that our world-leading technology can track and engage high-end effects at range. In a world of evolving threats we know that our focus must be on getting capability to the warfighter and we will look to accelerate this next phase of activity.”

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