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UK Dragonfire laser weapon demonstrator completes first high-power firings

Leonardo developed the LDEW beam director as part of the UK Dragonfire consortium. (Richard Scott/NAVYPIX)

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has completed the first trials of a high-powered, long-range Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) testbed at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory's (Dstl's) Porton Down range in Southern England.

Conducted in October, the trials involved firing the DragonFire LDEW capability demonstrator at several target sets. Led by MBDA UK, the UK Dragonfire consortium includes Leonardo and QinetiQ as key technology suppliers.

The sovereign LDEW capability demonstrator programme has been established to improve the MoD's understanding of how high-energy lasers and their associated technologies can defeat representative air and surface targets at operationally relevant ranges, and in different operating environments. According to Dstl, the need to generate high levels of laser power and the ability to focus the beam with sufficient accuracy, are two important areas that need to be demonstrated to provide confidence in the performance and viability of LDEW systems. Other considerations include management of power and cooling demands over a prolonged period, and effects management/safety aspects.

MBDA UK was originally awarded a GBP30 million (USD34.5 million) contract by Dstl in early 2017 to deliver the 50 kW-class LDEW capability demonstrator. As leader of the UK DragonFire consortium, MBDA UK has taken overall responsibility for the system, as well as developed its command-and-control (C2) and image processing capabilities. Leonardo has built the beam director, which enables the LDEW system to point-and-track moving targets with high accuracy. Meanwhile, QinetiQ has developed novel coherent beam-combining technology to produce a scalable laser system that can achieve an enhanced power density and increased engagement range.

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