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UK's groundbreaking new laser weapon to be complete game-changer in fight against Putin

Britain’s groundbreaking laser weapon system – which is set to be deployed on Royal Navy vessels within two years – has the potential to “significantly alter the economic calculus of defence”, a UK-based expert has predicted.

The Ministry of Defence last week confirmed plans to accelerate the programme, and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps even suggested it could be made available to Ukrainian forces to enable them to shoot down Russian drones sent by President Vladimir Putin.

And Stuart Dee said the system had the potential to be a potential game-changer – while stressing it was “not a silver bullet”.

The DragonFire laser-directed energy weapon (LDEW) utilises revolutionary 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 kilometre away.

The laser and its targeting systems, including an electro-optical camera plus a second lower-power laser for imaging and tracking, are mounted to a turret.

During a trial at the MOD’s Hebrides Range in January, the system, which was first unveiled in 2017, achieved the UK’s first high-power firing of a laser weapon against aerial targets.

Mr Dee, research leader in defence at RAND Europe, told Express.co.uk the system had initially been brought into service by 2032, but pointed out that the plans had been brought forward five years.

He explained: “The MOD claims that this is because of improvements to the acquisition process under the new ‘Integrated Procurement Model’, in particular, a focus on the placement of a ‘minimum deployable capability’ with frontline commands, and then perfecting in-service.

“This obviously comes with a degree of inherent risk.”

The plan to place DragonFire on to Royal Navy ships as a first priority makes logical sense for two reasons, Mr Dee stressed.

He explained: “Firstly, the Navy are on the effective frontline of the intended use case for the system in the Red Sea, engaging and destroying large numbers of cheap enemy drones currently through use of expensive missile systems. (The Ministry of Defence claims that DragonFire can achieve high accuracy at £10 per shot).

“Secondly, given the high energy requirements of these systems, it makes logical sense to initially focus on integration on ships due to the presence of their energy-dense onboard propulsion systems.”

Future air domain concepts such as the UK’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS) envisaged a need to incorporate more power than they currently require, which may make these systems feasible longer-term, but these were not short-term ambitions, Mr Dee emphasised.

He added: “Ships and ground-based air defence systems are more realistic applications in the medium-term.”

Weighing up the long-term significance, Mr Dee said: “Directed Energy systems have the potential to significantly alter the economic calculus of defence.

“Conflicts in both Ukraine and the Red Sea have demonstrated that it is currently very much more expensive to defend than it is to attack; LDEWs could swing this balance in time.

“They should not be considered a ‘silver bullet’ solution though; improvements to targeting, accuracy and ability to operate these systems in all weather conditions will probably be in focus and may require further investment, as well as from an industrial perspective how these systems are sustained over the longer-term.

“Their true overall costs will take some time to become clear.”

Mr Shapps told reporters during a visit to Porton Down last week it was possible the system could be used by Ukrainian troops even more quickly, explaining: “Let’s say that it didn’t have to be 100 percent perfect in order for Ukrainians perhaps to get their hands on it.”

Also speaking last week, Royal Navy Above Water Battlespace Head Captain Matt Ryder said: “We recognise this cutting-edge UK laser weapons technology as highly relevant and the need to accelerate it into service on board our ships at the earliest opportunity.

“Noting the quantity and varied sophistication of air and missile threats seen in the Southern Red Sea, we see a very relevant and current example of where laser weapons could provide an additional layer of defence to protect shipping, at a potentially much lower cost per shot and without the inherent onboard magazine and silo capacity constraints associated with interceptor missiles.”


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