Laser weapons production for the Royal Navy’s warships soon began

In a significant move towards bolstering their combat capabilities, the Royal Navy has recently initiated the assembly of laser weapon systems under the program moniker, DragonFire. The British Ministry of Defense broke the news today, April 12, that they have greenlighted the introduction of DragonFire laser weapons onto His Majesty’s naval fleet. 

Laser weapons production for the Royal Navy's warships soon began
Photo credit: MBDA

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps made the announcement that the laser weapon system, DragonFire, would swiftly transition from being part of a demonstration project to an operational combat feature for the Royal Navy. The subsequent stages of this innovative strategy will encompass additional combat test firings as well as the ultimate manufacture and installation of weapon systems onto Royal Navy vessels.

The successful test in January

Flashing back to January this year, you’ll recall that the DragonFire Laser Directed Energy Weapon [LDEW] system successfully executed an unprecedented high-powered laser weapon firing against aerial targets during trials at the Ministry of Defense’s Hebrides Range. While the DragonFire system’s range remains classified, it’s known to operate within line-of-sight, engaging any visible opponent swiftly. 

DragonFire, a product of advanced UK technology, boasts the ability to project a high-powered laser across extensive distances. Its precision is such that it could be likened to striking a £1 coin from a kilometer away. More remarkably, laser-directed energy weapons engage targets at the speed of light, emitting an intense beam that cuts into its target, causing significant structural damage or more devastating effects if the warhead strikes the target. 

Energy consumption? It’s astoundingly low. Ten seconds of functionality takes about as much energy as it would to run a regular heater for just an hour. This economical nature makes it an enticing long-term substitute for some roles currently fulfilled by missiles. A pleasing bonus is that each shot typically costs less than £10 in operational expenses. Quite remarkable, wouldn’t you say? 

Laser weapons production for the Royal Navy's warships soon began
Video screenshot

What do the experts say?

In response to the decision announced by the British Ministry of Defence today, Chris Allam, Managing Director of MBDA UK, expressed his thoughts. Highlighting the innovative laser system, he described it as a groundbreaking weapon that provides the British Navy with an unparalleled operational advantage. Additionally, he views the system as a strategic asset of high significance. 

Leonardo, an Italian firm involved in the project, echoed a similar sentiment. The company commended the system’s superior quality and potential profitability as an export asset in the future. QinetiQ, the third collaborator in the program, also enthusiastically supported the decision made by the British military today.

Laser weapons production for the Royal Navy's warships soon began
video screenshot

What the DragonFire is?

The DragonFire laser system encompasses a few crucial components. At the heart of this arrangement sits a laser module, responsible for emitting that potent laser beam we mention. One of its striking features is its adaptability—its power output can be tweaked according to the requirements of the mission. 

Next in line is the beam director, who is tasked with steering the laser beam towards its intended target. The system also integrates an adaptive optics system. The chief role of this component is to correct the distortion caused by atmospheric turbulence to our laser beam. To power our system, we need an energy source, and to tackle the heat produced by our laser, a cooling system is put into operation. 

On the technical front, DragonFire distinguishes itself. It operates at a wavelength of 1.06 micrometers, positioning it within the infrared part of the spectrum. This enables it to traverse through fog, dust, and other atmospheric disruptions more efficiently than lasers operating on different wavelengths. Quite impressive, wouldn’t you say? 

Additionally, the equipment is modular and scalable, implying that it can be installed onto an array of platforms and power levels can be adjusted as per needs. The actual power output? Unfortunately, that’s classified information. But let’s just say it possesses the capacity to deliver a beam with power levels in the tens of kilowatts range. Intriguing, don’t you think?

American analogue programs

It’s a well-known fact that the United States isn’t the only player in the field of laser weaponry. Many nations have embarked on this path, including the United Kingdom. However, the US boasts the most advanced arsenal filled with stand-out laser weapon systems. A prime example is the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy [ODIN], which is specifically designed to neutralize unmanned aerial systems. This system, installed on several navy destroyers, aims to impair or disrupt enemy drones’ sensors, rather than obliterate them. 

German frigate Sachsen shot down several drones with a laser
Photo credit: Twitter

Complementing ODIN is the High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical Blinding and Observation [HELIOS], a versatile system crafted to counter unmanned aerial systems and small boats. Its multi-function capacity extends from surveillance and blinding systems to a high-energy laser weapon. Further into the spectrum of US laser technology is the Laser Weapon System Demonstrator [LWSD]. This formidable defense mechanism is designed to handle a range of threats, from unmanned aerial vehicles to incoming missiles.

Also worthy of mention is the Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation [SSL-TM] system. Lastly, let’s not overlook the Compact Laser Weapons System [CLWS]. The unique aspect of this system is its portability. Designed to counter unmanned aerial systems and small boats, this rapidly deployable laser weapon can be mobilized on various platforms, offering adaptable defensive options.


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