UK military developing new laser weapon for future threats

5 Jan 2017

Photonics research. Image: Georgy Shafeev/Shutterstock

The UK military is looking towards the future and what threats might be on the horizon. To combat these, it is building a new prototype laser weapon, joining other world military powers.

Over the past few years, photonics research has advanced at a considerable rate to the point where researchers have demonstrated ‘invisibility cloaks’, as well as major advances in production of 3D printed objects.

But now, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is looking towards its potential use for military purposes, following the signing of a £30m contract with a number of European defence companies to develop a new laser weapon.

These companies include MBDA, Qinetiq, Leonardo-Finmeccanica GKN, Arke, BAE Systems and Marshall ADG, which will all form part of the single UK Dragonfire consortium to develop the prototype weapon.

According to the BBC, the contract will be for the development of a weapon that could be used in the field, being assessed for how it handles in all-weather conditions on both land and sea.

Not like the movies

Speaking with the BBC, a spokesperson for the MoD emphasised that the decision to invest in such an advanced platform is not because of the rise of any specific threat, but rather an attempt to see what benefits it could bring.

Unlike what has been seen in many science fiction movies, laser weapons of today offer a near invisible, silent and almost limitless option for taking down missiles and small aircraft like drones.

There are also a number of potential uses for laser weapons for ground-based military forces, such as in the use against potentially deadly improvised explosive devices on roadsides.

The UK Dragonfire consortium has been set with the task of building a demonstration model for use in 2019 and, if all goes well, could be deployed by the MoD in the beginning of the next decade.

Over in the US, the world’s most advanced military power has already deployed its own laser weapons systems aboard the USS Ponce naval warship, as well as announcing plans to place them on aircraft by 2022.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic