A key component of a high energy laser cannon being produced under a £30 million contract for the UK Ministry of Defence was unveiled in London this week, at military equipment exhibition DSEI 2017.
Under development by an MBDA-led consortium which includes Qinetiq, Leonardo-Finmeccanica, Arke, BAE Systems, Marshall and GKN the so-called Dragonfire system will be a 50kW class directed energy weapon designed for use on both land and sea.
Laser weapons have key advantages over traditional systems: the munition is potentially unlimited, and it operates at the speed of light so the time from when you say “fire” to the weapon hitting its target is more or less instantaneous.
According to the consortium the weapon – which is being optimised for use on land and at sea – will ultimately be used for short-range air defence, close-in protection for naval vessels, counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and protecting friendly forces from mortar and artillery attack.
Though the group is tight-lipped on the details of the technology, MBDA has previously revealed that it builds on earlier investments in the area of coherent beam combining – a technique in which beams from multiple fibre laser modules are combined to form a single, powerful, high quality beam. The weapon’s turret – which was unveiled at the London event – is the component responsible for ensuring that this beam hits its target.
As previously reported by The Engineer, a number of other defence firms have revealed that they are developing and testing directed energy weapons in recent years. US defence firm Raytheon began publicly demonstrating the weapons back in 2010, whilst in 2012, MBDA demonstrated a 40kW laser that successfully hit airborne targets at a range of over 2,000m. Lockheed Martin also used a prototype 30kW laser weapon to disable a truck. More recently the US Department of Defence announced that it’s investing $17 million in the technology.
According to the government Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, which awarded the contract to the Dragonfire consortium, testing of the demonstrator will begin on UK ranges in 2018, culminating in a major demonstration in 2019.