A new laser weapon demonstrator being built for the UK Ministry of Defence has been unveiled today by the UK Dragonfire consortium at DSEI 2017 in London. Known as the Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) Capability Demonstrator Programme (CDP), the effort will see UK Dragonfire trial this new sovereign capability in the maritime and land domains in 2019.

The Dragonfire laser effector is designed to operate offensively or defensively. A full-scale model of the system was displayed at DSEI 2017.

A key benefit of the Dragonfire LDEW technology is that the base system is highly adaptable and its effects are scaleable. As such it offers a range of different engagement solutions depending on the tactical scenario, these include tracking, deterring, dazzling the sensors of a potential threat, up to damaging or destroying it.

The laser developed by QinetiQ employs a scalable, coherent beam combining technology to create laser source with a power level of ‘several tens of kilowatts’. The system will be scalable to higher power levels, as required. The coherently combined fibre laser technology developed by QinetiQ associates phase control system that provides a high precision laser source that can be effectively directed at dynamic targets and achieve high power density on target in the presence of turbulence. Beam combining is a technology that is able to achieve enhanced power densities at target, reducing defeat times and increasing engagement range. Therefore, although the system is not of a ‘100 kW’, power level which is considered for weapon grade lasers, the Dragonfire beam director designed by Leonardo optimises the laser beam to optimize to atmospheric conditions that otherwise would dissipate much of the energy.

Among the uses of LDEW systems are providing very short-range air defense capability, close-in protection for naval vessels, counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and protecting friendly forces from mortar and artillery attack.

The consortium developing the UK Dragonfire, led by MBDA, under contract to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the project brought together Britain’s leading specialists in laser, EO and electronics, to develop a future laser-based technology for the UK Armed Forces.

At DSEI the team showed the beam director developed for the laser weapon trials. The beam director is an optical system integrated into a turret. The system, developed by Leonardo, integrates QinetiQ’s powerful laser emitter, as well as world-class electro-optics for target identification and tracking. MBDA is the prime contractor and also delivered command and control (C2) and image processing for the system.

UK Dragonfire was awarded a GBP30 million contract for the LDW CDP in early 2017 after a rigorous competitive evaluation. The team capitalizes on the strengths of all the companies involved, including Leonardo, QinetiQ, MBDA, Arke, BAE Systems, Marshall and GKN.

The Dragonfire is a scalable designed for deployment on ships, land vehicles and combat aircraft. It can be used for a wide range of effects, from non-lethal deterrence and dazzling to destruction of threats.