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Brits zap flying targets with a lasers

by on22 January 2024

Drones and missiles are toast.

The British MOD has shown off its new laser weapon that can cheaply blast expensive aerial targets out of the sky.

The DragonFire laser-directed energy weapon (LDEW) system fired its first high-power shot at the MOD’s Hebrides Range. The range of DragonFire is top secret, but it can zap anything it can see.

DragonFire uses UK technology to fire a high-power laser over long distances. It is so precise that it can hit a £1 coin from a kilometre away.

Laser weapons can hit speeding targets and use a powerful beam of light to slice through the target, causing it to explode or fall apart.

DragonFire is cheap to run, too. Firing it for 10 seconds costs the same as using a regular heater for just an hour. It could be a low-cost alternative to missiles for some tasks. The laser cost is usually less than £10 per shot.

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

This test showed that the laser weapon can hit aerial targets at reasonable ranges and is a big step in getting this technology ready for action. The Army and Royal Navy consider using this technology for their future Air Defence toys.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapp said: “This type of fancy weaponry could change how we fight by cutting down on expensive ammo and lowering the chance of hitting the wrong thing.”

The latest test follows a series of successful trials, including the first static high-power laser shot of a UK-only weapon and showing that the DragonFire system can track moving air and sea targets with very high accuracy at range.

After this research, the MOD said it wants to fund an extensive programme to move the technology from the lab to the battlefield.

The latest trial was paid for by the MOD’s Defence Science and Technology (DST) group and Strategic Programmes and helped by many other government bodies, making sure all the rules and safety checks were done.

Dstl’s Chief Executive, Dr Paul Hollinshead, said the trials had made a giant leap forward in seeing the possible benefits and dangers of laser weapons.

“With our years of knowledge, skills, and experience, Dstl’s know-how is key to helping the armed forces prepare for the future.”

The DragonFire weapon system results from a £100 million joint spend by the Ministry of Defence and Industry. Together, the companies involved keep UK jobs in new technologies, making a big difference in the UK’s ability to use LDEW systems.

In 2017, the MOD’s Chief Scientific Advisor’s Research Programme gave a £30 million contract to the DragonFire group to show what LDEWs can do.

Dr Nick Joad, DST, said: “This is a clever use of science and engineering and is the result of hard work and money. DragonFire uses the latest science and technology and does much better than other systems of the same kind. DragonFire gives us a new way to deal with fast and cheap threats.”

Shimon Fhima, Director of Strategic Programmes for the MOD, said: “The DragonFire trials at the Hebrides showed that our top technology can track and hit high-end effects at range. In a world of changing threats, we know that we have to focus on getting the weapon to the fighter, and we will try to speed up this next stage of work.”

Last modified on 22 January 2024
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