The UK Dragonfire team (Stand ND4 in the Naval Display area) has unveiled its laser weapon system demonstrator. It is being developed under a £30 million Dstl (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) contract that was awarded at the start of the year. Known as the Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) capability demonstrator programme, the UK Dragonfire effort brings together a team of Leonardo, QinetiQ, MBDA, Arke, BAE Systems, Marshall and GKN, with MBDA acting as overall programme co-ordinator.
Leonardo is supplying the beam director turret that incorporates advanced sensors and the laser effector, which is the primary responsibility of QinetiQ. MBDA is responsible for the command and control element, drawing on its experience with the Land/Sea Ceptor programmes.
Three principal modules make up the LDEW, comprising laser effector, power and cooling, and command and control. The system has passed its preliminary design review and is proceeding towards a critical design review at the end of this year. Laboratory trials will begin next year, and field trials in 2019.
In 2020 the team hopes to put the LDEW system aboard a naval vessel, possibly a Royal Fleet Auxiliary, to help demonstrate to the UK defence community the benefits of a laser weapon. The system aims to offer highly accurate targeting, allowing it to hit specific parts of an aircraft, for example. Such accuracy gives greater flexibility in target engagement, potentially allowing an LDEW system to disrupt or dazzle the target, as well as to destroy it. The UK Dragonfire team suggests an operational system could be fielded in the early 2020s on a platform such as the Type 45 destroyer, providing an agile defensive capability in the VSHORAD sector.