Dragonfire DEW Capability Demonstrator

In January 2017, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), awarded a contract to the Dragonfire consortium, worth 30million to UK industry, to demonstrate the potential of Laser Directed Energy Weapons (LDEW). Dstl supplies high-impact science and technology for the defence and security of the UK. Scientists from Dstl, working with industry partners under contract to Dstl, have been working on laser technology since the 1970s, with the intent of realising the benefit of an affordable and precise weapon for the UK military.

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

A key benefit of the Dragonfire LDEW technology is that the base system is highly adaptable and its effects are highly 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.

Testing of the demonstrator began on UK ranges in 2018, culminating in a major demonstration in 2019. The Dragonfire solution is based on unique technical approaches developed in the UK under MOD and industry funding centred on high energy lasers and will address the challenges associated with engaging aerial targets safely. It represents the major element of the Dstl led LDEW project, which draws on expertise across Dstl and contributes to internal collaborative programs.

UK Dragonfire, led by MBDA in the UK under contract to Dstl, has brought together the best of relevant UK industry expertise to deliver the highly challenging and complex programme. The team capitalises on the strengths of the individual companies involved, which include QinetiQ, Leonardo, GKN, Arke, BAE Systems and Marshall Land Systems.

The beam director, which will be provided by Leonardo, brings together QinetiQs powerful laser emitter, as well as world-class electro-optics for target identification and tracking. MBDA is bringing prime weapon system delivery experience and advanced weapon system command and control (C2) and image processing capability to UK Dragonfire, in addition to co-ordinating the overall effort. 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.

The LDEW technology provides operational advantage to the UK military and the potential to export such systems in support of the Prosperity agenda, as advocated in the UKs 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, by developing on-shore industrial capability.

Peter Cooper, Dstls Project Technical Authority for Dragonfire, said: "Dragonfire is the culmination of many years of work in the area of laser directed energy weapons. We are looking forward to the 2019 demonstration and, working with our industry colleagues, we aim provide the UK Armed Forces with innovative, effective and affordable solutions to the emerging threats they face."

Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriet Baldwin said: " The UK has long enjoyed a reputation as a world leader in innovation and it is truly ground-breaking projects like the Laser Directed Energy Weapon which will keep this country ahead of the curve. The Defence Innovation Initiative and 800M Defence Innovation Fund aim to encourage imagination, ingenuity and entrepreneurship, in pursuit of maintaining a military advantage in the future. With a rising Defence budget, and a 178 billion equipment plan, our commitment to innovation will deliver a safer and more prosperous Britain."

The project will assess innovative LDEW technologies and approaches, culminating in a demonstration of the system in 2019. The contract will assess how the system can pick up and track targets at various ranges and in varied weather conditions over land and water, to allow precision use. The project will inform decisions on the future of the programme and help the MODs Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) establish a road map to an in-service capability. If it is successful, the first laser weapons would come into service in the mid-2020s.

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