UK’s “DragonFire” laser weapon downs its first drones

The futuristic weapon could be ready for the battlefield in 5 years.

A high-powered laser weapon under development in the UK just shot down its first drones — putting the futuristic device a major step closer to the battlefield.

The background: Laser weapons — powerful, destructive beams of light — are arguably the “next big thing” in defense tech, thanks to their numerous benefits over traditional kinetic energy weapons, like missiles or guns.

“DragonFire will be a vital British weapon as the threat of drone warfare grows.”

Grant Shapps

Even though laser weapons cost a lot to develop, their per-shot cost can be as low as $1 — a single missile can carry a price tag of more than $1 million. Because a laser weapon doesn’t have physical projectiles, there’s never a worry about running out of ammo, either — it can fire as long as it has an energy source.

The beam of a laser weapon moves at the speed of light, too, so there’s almost no delay between when it’s fired and when it reaches its target — that makes it easier to hit moving targets, like drones or incoming missiles, than if you were using a kinetic energy weapon.

What’s new? In 2017, the UK military began developing DragonFire, its first high-powered, long-range laser weapon, and on January 19, it demonstrated the device’s ability to down aerial drones for the first time.

“Capable of being fitted to future warships, [DragonFire] will be a vital British weapon as the threat of drone warfare grows,” tweeted Grant Shapps, the UK’s secretary of state for defense, after the demonstration. 

Looking ahead: Both the UK Army and Royal Navy are considering adding DragonFire to their air defense arsenals, and a spokesperson from the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory told Defense Now that it could be ready for deployment in 5 to 10 years.

“The DragonFire system has been successfully proven to date, and we are now closer than ever to having a unique weapon that will enable frontline commands to meet the rapidly changing threats they face,” said Chris Allam, managing director at MBDA UK, an industry partner on the DragonFire project. 

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