With a name like “Dragonfire” it sounds like science fiction but laser weapons could be about to become science fact for UK forces.
British defence and technology companies have come together to develop the UK’s first laser weapon, which could be mounted on ships to shoot down enemy jets and missiles or even used by ground forces to destroy incoming mortar rounds.
The Ministry of Defence is finalising a £30m contract to build a technology demonstrator which will evaluate lasers and examine how they could be deployed by Britain’s forces.
A key benefit of the Dragonfire LDEW technology is that the base system is highly adaptable and its effects are scaleable.
As such it offers a range of different engagement solutions depending on the tactical scenario, these include tracking, deterring, dazzling the sensors of a potential threat, up to damaging or destroying it.
Dragonfire will be tested to see how it can identify and track targets at different ranges and in a variety of weather conditions.
If it is deemed viable, it could replace conventional systems, offering a lower cost and more efficient alternative to current weapons.
A laser only needs a power source to fire, whereas conventional weapons need ammunition or use missiles, which relatively expensive and take up space.
The prototype is expected to be delivered in 2019 and is being built by a consortium led by Stevenage-based missile maker MBDA.
Also involved are QinetiQ, Leonardo-Finmeccanica, GKN, Arke, BAE Systems and Marshall.
The Royal Navy currently uses the ‘Goalkeeper’ systems to shoot down incoming missiles
Dragonfire is one the systems being developed under the MoD’s £800m Innovation Fund, which aims to tap British ingenuity to give the UK military an advantage in battle and new capabilities by using advanced technology.
Dave Armstrong, MBDA technical director, said: “Dragonfire will put the UK at the forefront of high energy laser systems, capitalising on the joint experience of the MoD and industry in the complex weapons environment.
“It also advances the UK towards a future product with significant export potential, as well as providing opportunities for partnerships with other nations’ armed forces that have similar requirements.”
Norman Bone, managing director of Leonardo-Finmeccanica, which is contributing the systems which will direct the Dragonfire’s laser beam, added: “This demonstrator will be at the forefront of UK technology research and fits within our strategy to develop the next generation of laser systems.”
The system will be scalable to higher power levels, as required.
The coherently combined fibre laser technology developed byassociates phase control system that provides a high precision laser source that can be effectively directed at dynamic targets and achieve high power density on target in the presence of turbulence.
Beam combining is a technology that is able to achieve enhanced power densities at target, reducing defeat times and increasing engagement range.
Therefore, although the system is not of a ‘100 kW’, power level which is considered for weapon grade lasers, the Dragonfire beam director designed byoptimises the laser beam to optimize to atmospheric conditions that otherwise would dissipate much of the energy.
Among the uses of LDEW systems are providing very short-range air defense capability, close-in protection for naval vessels, counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and protecting friendly forces from mortar and artillery attack.
The consortium developing the UK Dragonfire, led by, under contract to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the project brought together Britain’s leading specialists in laser, EO and electronics, to develop a future laser-based technology for the UK Armed Forces.
At DSEI the team showed the beam director developed for the laser weapon trials.
The beam director is an optical system integrated into a turret.
The system, developed by, integrates ’s powerful laser emitter, as well as world-class electro-optics for target identification and tracking.
is the prime contractor and also delivered command and control (C2) and image processing for the system.
UK Dragonfire was awarded a GBP30 million contract for the LDW CDP in early 2017 after a rigorous competitive evaluation
. The team capitalizes on the strengths of all the companies involved, including Leonardo, QinetiQ,, Arke, , Marshall and GKN.