The UK’s DragonFire laser-directed energy weapon (LDEW) system successfully launched a high-power laser weapon at unidentified airborne targets, ensuring the UK’s entry into the elite group of countries possessing state-of-the-art laser technology.
DragonFire is a line-of-sight weapon that can engage with any visible target. However, its range remains classified for now.
In a press statement, the UK Ministry of Defense said, “DragonFire exploits UK technology to be able to deliver a high-power laser over long ranges. The precision required is equivalent to hitting a £1 coin from a kilometer away. Laser-directed energy weapons can engage targets at the speed of light and use an intense beam of light to cut through the target, leading to structural failure or more impactful results if the warhead is targeted.”
Explaining the massive feat that had been achieved, the press note explained that “Firing it for 10 seconds is the cost equivalent of using a regular 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 per shot.”
The most recent trial, conducted by Dstl and the DragonFire partners, MBDA, Leonardo, and QinetiQ, expands upon a string of extremely successful ones, such as the first static high-power laser firing of a sovereign UK capability and the demonstration of the DragonFire system’s long-range, highly accurate tracking of moving air and sea targets.
This achievement marked a significant advancement in the practical application of the technology by demonstrating the capability to engage aerial targets at appropriate ranges. According to reports, this technology is being considered by the Army and the Royal Navy for use in their future Air Defence capabilities.
The development is significant as it comes at a time when small aerial targets like kamikaze drones and loitering munitions have seen unprecedented proliferation. Moreover, they are now easily accessible to state as well as non-state actors, which has been flagged as a massive threat by the UK and other countries in the West.
The UK has been at the forefront of an effort to thwart drone and missile attacks in the Mediterranean. Several drones fired by the Yemen-based Houthis and other regional militias backed by Iran have been shot down by US and UK warships in recent days. The use of laser weapons for air defense, thus, assumes more significance.
As previously explained by EurAsian Times in a detailed article, Lasers are particularly useful against unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) because their concentrated laser beams may rapidly heat a drone’s body. This may result in structural failure of the drone, leading to the burning off of one of the wings on a fixed-wing drone.
A laser weapon is also similarly capable of downing a quadcopter-style drone by melting a plastic or metal arm that supports one of its propellers. It could also swiftly set a drone’s liquid fuel supply ablaze or blind its optical sensors—especially the ones used by a far-off human controller to guide the UAS to its specific target. The UK’s DragonFire would, however, be entrusted to shoot more than just drones.
In November 2022, DragonFire completed a major round of live fire tests that involved hitting metal targets made to resemble the skin of ships and airplanes along with a small drone. At the time, Dstl officials stated that the tests had confirmed that DragonFire could generate “useful effects” against a variety of targets.
Having said that, laser-based air defense systems have been projected as revolutionary, a sentiment echoed by the British Defense Secretary as well.
Defence Secretary Grant Shapp said: “This type of cutting-edge weaponry has the potential to revolutionize the battlespace 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.”
The latest feat achieved by the DragonFire is another step forward in the weapon system becoming operational and entering service with the British military. Several other states, like the US, Israel, China, and Russia, have been working on integrating laser-based air defense capability into their militaries amid the rising challenges on the battlefield.
What Do We Know About The DragonFire?
On behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), under contract to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the UK Dragonfire consortium, led by MBDA and consisting of Leonardo and QinetiQ, has assembled the best of UK industry expertise to develop a Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) Capability Demonstrator Programme (CDP).
This new UK sovereign capability uses a variety of effects based on the tactical scenario to provide close-quarters air defense and short-range air defense for naval vessels. These include locating, following, and distancing a possible threat by blinding its intended targets’ sensors, as well as damaging or even eliminating the approaching threat.
The advanced command and control (C2) and image processing capabilities of the DragonFire weapon system have been created by the European multinational missile manufacturer MBDA, which oversees its entire operation.
The system’s beam director, created by the Italian defense company Leonardo, can monitor target objects with extreme precision. BQinetiq, a UK-based company, has developed a phased-combination laser capable of eliminating targets. According to previous reports, the laser can produce 50kW at this time, but the system will eventually be able to scale up the firepower levels.
According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the DragonFire weapon is accurate enough to strike a £1 coin from a distance of one kilometer. The DragonFire system has a limited range, but it is a line-of-sight weapon that can hit any nearby visible target.
In any case, weapons employing lasers, microwaves, gamma rays, and other electromagnetic energy can be fired repeatedly without mechanical loading, making them more versatile and adaptive in various combat scenarios.
Although not much information is available about the DragonFire system, we know that the UK is committed to incorporating cost-effective and precision laser-directed energy weapons to combat modern threats.
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