UK: First high-power firing of Dragonfire laser weapon completed

The MOD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has hosted the UK’s first high-powered, long range laser directed energy weapon (LDEW) trial on its ranges at Porton Down.

The trials involved firing the UK DragonFire demonstrator at a number of targets over a number of ranges, demanding pinpoint accuracy from the beam director.

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The programme’s specialist industry partners are:

  • MBDA, with overall responsibility for the system; MBDA have developed the advanced command and control (C2) and image processing capabilities;
  • Leonardo, who have developed the beam director which can track and point at targets with pin-point accuracy;
  • QinetiQ’s laser experts, who have built a phase-combined laser capable of generating in the order of 50kW of power, with the ability in the future to scale fire-power levels.

These tests are expected to improve the UK’s understanding of how high-energy lasers and their associated technologies can operate over distance and defeat representative targets.

Photo: UK Government

The ability to deliver high levels of laser power with sufficient accuracy are two of the major areas that need to be demonstrated in order to provide confidence in the performance and viability of LDEW systems, according to the UK officials.

“This trial is the culmination of design, development and demonstration activity over a number of years. 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. This trial has assessed the performance of the laser itself – the outcome shows that the UK has world-leading capability in the technologies associated with laser directed energy weapons (LDEW) systems,” Dstl’s Technical Partner Ben Maddison said.

The trial is the culmination of significant joint investment by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and industry over a number of years totalling around £100 million.

This technology could provide the basis for a number of future weapon systems.

The DragonFire project is running in parallel and closely connected to other defence programs including the Novel Weapons Programme.

Photo: UK Government