UK’s Dragonfire: A Revolution for the British Defence Industry?

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As we saw with the Houthi attacks on shipping at the Bab-El-Mandeb Strait, the use of drones in armed conflict has proved increasingly intensive, and until now, few solutions have been available, or at least expensive.

(Source: gov.uk)

However, over the past week, UK Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, has declared on X (Twitter) the successful testing of the UK’s first laser weapon – Dragonfire. “British military scientists have for the first time shot down drones using lasers to perforate incoming targets at the speed of light.”

The latter is a Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) using an intense beam of light to cut through their target and can strike at the speed of light. It was first unveiled to the public at the Defense and Security Equipment International Conference in London in 2017 and it is the culmination of the work of a UK collaboration comprising MBDA UK, Leonardo UK, QinetiQ, and the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, funded by a joint investment of £100 million from the MoD and the Department of Industry.

 

This project is a major technological breakthrough for the UK as DSTL Director General, Dr. Paul Hollinshead said, “These trials have seen us take a huge step forward in realizing the potential opportunities and understanding the threats posed by directed energy weapons.”

 

MAJOR TECHNICAL ADVANCES:

According to the UK MoD, the operating cost is typically less than £10 per shot, or equivalent to using an ordinary radiator for an hour if fired for 10 seconds. This reduces reliance on expensive ammunition while minimizing the risk of collateral damage.

The weapon also boasts impressive accuracy – it could hit a pound coin from a distance of one kilometer. Although the weapon’s range remains confidential, we do know that it is a line-of-sight weapon capable of hitting any target within its range.

(Source: gov.uk)

FUTURE USES:

In order to be able to defend itself against drone attacks, the British Navy will be able to install Dragonfire on its ships. This news comes at an opportune moment, given that until now, the British Navy has responded with expensive anti-aircraft missiles to low-cost drones and rockets.

This cost differential has long been an advantage used by the weaker party in asymmetrical conflicts to financially exhaust the stronger, so this laser weapon would change the norm in such conflicts.

References

Coutansais-Pervinquière, A. (2024). Test réussi pour le ‘DragonFire’, la ‘première arme laser’ du Royaume-Uni. [online] Le Figaro. Available at: https://www.lefigaro.fr/international/test-reussi-pour-le-dragonfire-la-premiere-arme-laser-du-royaume-uni-20240121

Faulkner, D. (2024). DragonFire laser: MoD tests weapon as low-cost alternative to missiles. www.bbc.com. [online] 19 Jan. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-68031257.

GOV.UK. (2024). Advanced future military laser achieves UK first. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/advanced-future-military-laser-achieves-uk-first

Arno Beaume
WRITTEN BY

Arno Beaume

I have a keen interest in the areas of international relations and the foreign policies of great powers, with a particular emphasis concerning international diplomatic negotiations and conflict resolution. I also have a daily habit of keeping up with world news for the past few years, making it a natural choice for me to delve into writing about these global events.

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