The UK Royal Navy is to begin fielding the DragonFire laser directed energy weapon (LDEW) systems from 2027 under an accelerated rollout plan announced on 12 April.

According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), acquisition reforms introduced this month with the start of 2024-25 financial year mean that a minimum deployable capability can now be rolled at much faster pace than before. It had previously been anticipated that LDEW weapons would not come into frontline service with the UK armed forces until 2032.

Contracted through the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), DragonFire is a LDEW demonstrator developed by an MBDA UK-led team also including Leonardo and QinetiQ. The 50 kW-class system – which has been built to prove key LDEW technologies at a weapon system level, demonstrate the ability to acquire, track, engage and defeat relevant targets, and establish a credible sovereign UK capability – has completed a series of tracking and firing trials on MoD ranges since late 2021.

As leader of the UK DragonFire consortium, MBDA UK has taken overall system responsibility as well as developing command and control and image processing capabilities; Leonardo has built the beam director, which enables the LDEW system to point and track on moving targets with millimetric accuracy; while QinetiQ has provided the laser source, and developed coherent beam-combining technology designed to enhance power density and increase engagement range. Combined MoD/industry investment to dates aggregates to more than £100 million.

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