Powerful DragonFire laser weapon to be installed on Royal Navy warship by 2027

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Defence Secretary Grant Shapps. Photographer: Rosie Hallam - UK MOD © Crown copyright. MOD Crown Copyright News / Editorial Licence.

By 2027, the Royal Navy is set to bolster its arsenal with a formidable addition: a powerful laser weapon.

This advancement comes as the demand for defences against drone and missile threats, such as those posed by Houthi rebels, continues to escalate.

The cutting-edge DragonFire laser, slated for installation on a warship, will augment the Royal Navy’s robust air defense capabilities, which already include systems like the Sea Viper and Sea Ceptor missiles. These systems have recently demonstrated their efficacy by neutralising Houthi targets in operations within the Red Sea, conducted by vessels like HMS Diamond and HMS Richmond.

Operating at the speed of light, the DragonFire laser can engage targets – be it drones, missiles, or aircraft – with remarkable precision and cost-effectiveness. Despite its immense power, a single burst from DragonFire costs no more than £10.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has emphasised the imperative of adapting procurement processes to address evolving threats, ensuring swift acquisition of cutting-edge equipment for the Armed Forces.

Mr Shapps said:

“In a more dangerous world, our approach to procurement is shifting with it. We need to be more urgent, more critical and more global. 

“Our widespread reforms will deliver the latest kit and weaponry for our Armed Forces faster and help identify export opportunities that can boost the UK economy.  

“DragonFire shows the best of the UK at the forefront of military technology, and we will not delay in getting it in the hands of our military to face down the threats we’re facing.”

This groundbreaking laser technology, under development for nearly a decade, recently underwent successful tests conducted by government scientists in the Hebrides. With plans expedited by five years from 2032, DragonFire will be integrated into Royal Navy vessels, following new procurement regulations introduced this week.

Image of the ‘DragonFire’ Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW), seen here undergoing trials at DSTL’s (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) range at Porton Down in Salisbury, UK. Photographer: Henry White. UK MOD © Crown copyright 2024 News / Editorial Licence.

Captain Matt Ryder, overseeing new capabilities as Head of Above Water Battlespace in the Royal Navy’s Develop Directorate, emphasised the Navy’s proactive stance towards adopting innovative technologies. He highlighted the relevance of laser weapons, particularly in safeguarding Freedom of Navigation in the Southern Red Sea amid Operation Prosperity Guardian.

Captain Ryder said:

“The Royal Navy has always been on the front foot to embrace new technologies to enhance our capability.

“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.

“Clearly a current operational focus is on protecting Freedom of Navigation in the Southern Red Sea as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian, where in recent months HMS Diamond and HMS Richmond have each successfully deployed Air Defence capabilities to defend legitimate shipping in the area against drone and missile threats.

“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.”

While existing missile systems remain vital components of the Royal Navy’s defense strategy, DragonFire presents an additional layer of protection, offering potentially lower costs per shot and circumventing onboard magazine and silo capacity limitations associated with interceptor missiles.

Developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in collaboration with industry partners MBDA, Leonardo, and QinetiQ, DragonFire represents a significant leap forward in UK defense capabilities. Dstl’s Chief Executive, Paul Hollinshead, underscored the achievement as a testament to UK innovation and preparedness for future challenges.

Mr Hollinshead said:

“This is excellent news, and a real step forward in enabling operational advantage at pace for UK Defence. Dstl is all about preparing for the future and the DragonFire technology is a great example of that.  

“Our scientists along with industry partners have worked tirelessly to bring laser technology to where it is today, one which I am proud to say is a UK sovereign capability.”

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