Laser Weapons To Bust Iran’s Shahed Kamikaze Drones; British DragonFire Gears-Up For Ukraine Deployment

Iran fired its ‘cheap’ drones and missiles into Israel this morning. According to reports, the majority of launches were carried out from the territory of Iran. Iran fired at least 185 drones, all of which were intercepted, according to NYT reports.

China ‘Accelerates’ Force Multipliers – AEW&C, FRA & EW Aircraft – To Fight US Military; Why India Must Act Now

The biggest issue, be it Ukraine or Israel, remains the interception cost of cheap drones, which comes at a very high price.

Ukraine may soon be equipped with a brand-new laser air defense system as it continues to plead with allies for more Patriot interceptor missiles in the face of an unrelenting Russian air assault, especially by Shahed kamikaze drones.

The UK is expediting the development of the DragonFire laser system (DragonFire is led by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence, working with industry partners MBDA, Leonardo, and QinetiQ), which could be operational on Royal Navy ships by 2027. The system could be the response to cheap Russian drone threats.

On April 11, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps hinted that Ukraine may receive system prototypes to strengthen its defense. The declaration was made amidst increasing Russian airstrikes throughout Ukraine. At a tenth of the cost of conventional interceptors, the DragonFire laser can take down drones and missiles.

While the entire system is scheduled for deployment by 2027, Shapps stressed the strategic significance of this cutting-edge technology during a visit to the DragonFire lab on April 11. He also mentioned that the current geopolitical situation, particularly in Ukraine, might require an accelerated delivery of prototype units, The Telegraph reported.

According to Shapps, although the UK wants to have the DragonFire laser in use by 2027, there are now plans to transfer earlier, potentially crude, prototypes to Ukraine.

“Let’s say that it didn’t have to be 100 percent perfect for Ukrainians, perhaps, to get their hands on it. 2027 is still the date, as of this moment, but of course, I’ll look to see what we can do to speed it up,” the UK Defense Secretary said.

DSTL project manager Matt Cork notified reporters that the UK 7th Air Defence Group may receive the DragonFire laser in September for “user experimentation.” Truck mounting will enable British Army specialists to evaluate and provide input on the ground-based version’s functionality and possible enhancements.

File Image: DragonFire

The development is significant since Ukraine is believed to be reeling under a shortage of Patriot interceptor missiles. Ukraine has three to five Patriot systems, but the precise number and location are under wraps. Due to a severe lack of air defense ammunition and other equipment, Russia has been relentlessly attacking Ukraine’s energy sector.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in light of the nation’s challenges with munitions shortages, his team had identified over 100 Patriot air defense systems that its partners could spare. Without naming any particular state, he emphasized that they had identified at least four European and Asian users of Patriots that could be immediately sent to Ukraine.

According to Kyiv officials, it will take 26 systems to cover the entire nation. Currently, acquiring seven Patriot systems is the primary goal. These will protect important locations from Russian airstrikes. However, the hunt for Patriot systems has not produced any results despite promises from EU allies, including Germany, to help.

In the face of this crunch, Britain’s Dragonfire laser air defense system might be a boon to the embattled country, even if the United Kingdom sends only a few units.

According to Shapps, the technology is effective against slower drones and faster-moving projectiles like ballistic missiles. These are difficult targets for Ukrainian air defenses because only a small number of Ukraine’s Patriot systems can destroy them.

Most importantly, the cost of operating the laser is typically less than £10 or $10.64 per shot, whereas the cost of a Patriot interceptor missile is somewhere between $2 million and $4 million per piece. The Pentagon had reportedly warned that the high cost of these missiles would make their uninterrupted supply to Ukraine unsustainable.

At this point, it is not clear when the Dragonfly could make its way to Ukraine, if at all. However, the British Defense Secretary said he would see if the pace could be enhanced “for Ukrainians perhaps to get their hands on it.”

The UK has demonstrated its commitment to Ukraine’s security against Russia in the past when it became the first country to arm Kyiv with the Storm Shadow long-range missiles.

Transferring a laser-based air defense system, a capability currently unknown to Ukraine would be another step in that direction. However, experts believe that it cannot be done anytime soon, given that the system is still in the testing phase.

UK’s Dragonfire Against Russian Drones

DragonFire is a line-of-sight weapon that can engage with any visible target. However, its range remains classified for now.

press statement previously published by 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.”

The weapon’s successful test in January at the Ministry of Defence’s Hebrides Range in Scotland was heralded as a “major step” toward deploying laser-directed energy weapons (LDEWs).

The press release described the incredible accomplishment: “Firing it for 10 seconds is the cost equivalent of using a regular heater for just an hour.” As a result, it might eventually prove to be a less expensive substitute for some of the functions that missiles presently perform. Usually, running the laser costs less than £10 for each shot.

File Image: UK’s laser weapon

The biggest benefit of lasers is their low cost and theoretical “unlimited magazine” of ammo — as long as there’s a steady power supply.

As previously explained by EurAsian Times in a detailed article, lasers are beneficial against unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) because the concentrated laser beams may rapidly heat a drone’s body. This may result in the drone’s structural failure, leading to the burning off of one of the wings on a fixed-wing drone.

A laser weapon can also bring down a drone that resembles a quadcopter by melting the plastic or metal arm holding one of the drone’s propellers. Additionally, it has the potential to quickly ignite a drone’s liquid fuel supply or blind its optical sensors, particularly those that a distant human controller uses to direct the UAS to its precise target. However, DragonFire in the UK would be tasked with shooting more than drones.

With those capabilities, the system could give Russia’s kamikaze drone visitors a run for their money if deployed by Ukraine.

This is significant given that Russia regularly dispatches swarms of drones to attack Ukrainian cities, which leads to the Ukrainian military expending their expensive missiles to take down cheap drones.

The DragonFire finished a significant round of live fire testing in November 2022, which entailed striking metal targets designed to simulate the skin of ships and aircraft in addition to a tiny drone. Officials from DSTL said at the time that the testing had verified DragonFire’s ability to produce “useful effects” against a range of targets.