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UK scopes transition plan for directed energy weapons

The DragonFire 50 kW-class LDEW capability demonstrator system. (Richard Scott/NAVYPIX)

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is embarking on a three-year ‘Transition Phase' programme designed to support the development and delivery of directed energy weapon (DEW) systems tothe UK armed forces over the next five to 10 years.

In a briefing note promulgated on 1 September industry has been asked to help shape the UK DEW procurement strategy by providing early input to guide planning and policy. At this stage, the MoD is leaning towards a framework arrangement that would allow it to leverage expertise from a wide range of suppliers across all tiers of the supply chain.

Being led by the Directed Energy Weapons team within the MoD's Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation, the new DEW road map is intended to result in the fielding of laser DEW (LDEW) and radio frequency DEW (RFDEW) systems for air-defence and counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS) applications. The work will build on prior DEW maturation and learning, including lessons learned from three capability demonstrator projects expected to start user experimentation in 2024.

Following several years of science and technology activity exploring novel weapons technology, the MoD in 2019 established its DEW programme to accelerate and exploit DEW capability on the front line as a complement to more conventional kinetic self-defences. DEW technology is attractive because of its low cost per shot, very fast engage/re-engage time, and ability to deliver tuneable/scalable effects with high precision and minimal collateral impact. DEW weapons also benefit from a large and renewable ‘deep' energy magazine, avoiding the hazards and logistics associated with conventional munitions.

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