Sunday, February 25, 2024

UK test-fires its first high-powered, long-range laser weapon

The Uk’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) has announced the successful test fire of its first high-powered, long-range laser-directed energy weapon (LDEW), called DragonFire. Testing of the DragonFire system took place at the Porton Down science park test range in Wiltshire. The trial was hosted by MOD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) to assess performance and viability.

Prior to this, the military, which spent £100 million ($114 million) on development, tested the laser’s ability to track and hit targets with high accuracy in the air and at sea back in July.

The DragonFire trials involve firing the demonstrator at a number of targets over a number of ranges, demanding pinpoint accuracy from the beam director. These tests improve the UK’s understanding of how high-energy lasers and their associated technologies can operate over distance and defeat representative targets. The ability to deliver high levels of laser power with sufficient accuracy are two the major areas that need to be demonstrated to provide confidence in the performance and viability of LDEW systems.

DragonFire is being developed by the UK Dragonfire consortium, led by MBDA and comprising Leonardo, QinetiQ, Arke, BAE Systems, Marshall, and GKN. The MBDA Missile Systems has overall responsibility for the project and developed the advanced command and control (C2) and image processing capabilities. Leonardo built the beam director used to track and point at targets with pinpoint accuracy, while QinetiQ is responsible for developing the 50-kW solid-state, phase-combined laser generator, with the ability in the future to scale fire-power levels.

“This trial is the culmination of design, development, and demonstration activity over a number of years,” Dstl’s Technical Partner, Ben Maddison, said. “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.”

The program’s next step will be to test the demonstrator against more realistic targets and find ways to move its findings into practical applications. This technology could provide the basis for a number of future weapon systems.