UK expands laser and radio frequency directed energy weapons program
The UK's Ministry of Defence has ordered three laser and radio-frequency weapons demonstrators for the country's Armed Forces. Today's announcement promises £130 million (US$162 million) to test and evaluate the next generation of Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) with field trials expected to begin in 2023 on Royal Navy ships and British Army vehicles.
With their ability to deliver destructive force at the speed of light at a cost of a dollar a round, lasers and other DEWs are one of the key technologies being pursued by major military powers around the world. In 2017, the MoD awarded £30 million (US$37 million) to the British Dragonfire consortium to build a Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) Capability Demonstrator, which is expected to begin testing this year, and now three more demonstrator projects have been given the green light.
As well as lasers that can destroy targets with heat and thermal shock waves, the new contracts will include radio-frequency weapons that can disrupt electronics and disable computers. According to the MoD, Britain has been researching radio frequency DEWs for over 30 years and is a world leader in the necessary power generation technologies.
The new demonstrators will be designed to be powered by electricity provided by a vehicle's own generators, which will give them unlimited firing capacity and greater flexibility under battle conditions.
Part of the MoD's Novel Weapons Programme, the goal will be to speed up development of energy weapon technologies to get them on the battlefield as soon as possible. This will include the building of the demonstrators, the establishment of a Joint Programme Office, and recruitment of management personnel.
If all goes according to schedule, the first field trials in 2023 will be aboard Navy ships and Army vehicles, though the finished weapons will serve in all branches of service as the technology matures and is better understood. Exact details of these weapon systems have not been released, however, renderings do indicate that they will include ship-mounted and helicopter-mounted weapons.
Along with Dragonfire laser, which is based on a multiple solid-state laser system, the new lasers and DEWs are expected to be deployed in active service inside of 10 years.
"Laser and Radio Frequency technologies have the potential to revolutionize the battlefield by offering powerful and cost-effective weapons systems to our Armed Forces," says Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt."This significant investment demonstrates our commitment to ensuring our Armed Forces operate at the forefront of military technology."
Source: Ministry of Defence