TechUK's DragonFire laser marks a new era in drone and aircraft defence

UK's DragonFire laser marks a new era in drone and aircraft defence

DragonFire - concept image
DragonFire - concept image
Images source: © gov.uk
10:13 AM EDT, March 14, 2024

The United Kingdom has recently demonstrated the successful engagement of a target using the DragonFire laser system, signalling a potential revolution in air defence and countering unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Designed by the DragonFire consortium, which includes Qinetiq, and the UK divisions of MBDA and Leonardo, this advanced laser system marries expertise from its creators. Qinetiq brings to the table its 50 kW laser technology and beam power modulation, Leonardo oversees the fire control system, and MBDA manages the command and control aspects.

Many countries are delving into laser weapon research, with the UK keen on matching strides with powerhouses like the USA and Germany. The ability to down an airborne target has been a significant stride in the evolution of the UK’s laser system, making it a perfect adjunct to missile-based air defence systems.

Laser weaponry — the forefront of anti-aircraft and drone defense

Laser weapons promise a reshaping of air defence capabilities. They eclipse traditional anti-aircraft artillery by offering a wider engagement envelope and unparalleled accuracy. British innovation claims the capability to strike a target as small as a 1-pound coin from a 0.62-mile range.

Such precision is beyond the reach of conventional ballistic weapons. Furthermore, the cost-effectiveness is striking, with the price of neutralizing a target pegged at approximately 10 pounds — a figure that starkly undercuts the expense of using fragmentation or programmable missiles from standard anti-aircraft guns.

The current mobility model boasts a 50 kW strength, but efforts are underway to augment this power. The reason is that a laser's strength is critical for rapidly compromising the integrity of a target’s outer structure, leading to its destruction either by detonating the warhead or igniting the fuel.

Despite their promise, laser weapons face challenges, most notably their complexity and vulnerability to less-than-ideal weather conditions like rain or fog, which can significantly impede their efficacy.

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