Dragonfire: the Road to Battlefield Ready Laser Weaponry

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June 19, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: June 19 on

Directed energy weapons are fast shaping up to be the ‘must-have’ arms for the mid-21st century, and while developments in the US may have stolen much of the limelight in recent years, every military worth its salt is working towards bringing DEW capability into service.

Of all the potential approaches to energy weaponry, arguably none has generated more interest than laser technology, with Britain’s Ministry of Defence recently awarding a £30m contract to produce a demonstrator system in the 50kW class which could ultimately see fully weaponised lasers entering service within ten years.

The MoD’s association with the concept of battlefield lasers began almost as soon as the technology emerged back in the early 1960s, and it seems Britain even deployed – but did not actually use – them during the Falklands War. A letter written in 1983 by the then Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine to the Prime Minister of the day, Margaret Thatcher, and released in 2013 under the 30 year rule, describes the weapon as being “designed to dazzle low-flying Argentinean pilots attacking ships”.

It is thought to have been inspired by an earlier idea, dreamt up during the British defence of Suez in 1941, using high-powered searchlights to protect Royal Navy vessels against enemy aircraft. If everything goes according to plan, the latest version will be able to do very much more than dazzle.