Although not ready for deployment just yet, a new UK anti-drone weapon known as DragonFire has delivered some impressive results in testing at the very time people in Ukraine are hoping for new tech capable of neutralizing the brutal missile and UAV attacks on the nation’s cities.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) recently revealed its DragonFire laser weapon turned in impressive performances during trials at the Porton Down range earlier this month – with one small drone paying a heavy price. The MoD said the nation’s first high-powered, long-range laser directed energy weapon accurately fired at a number of aerial targets during the tests, frying a quadcopter from over two miles away.
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Developed by the MoD’s UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory with a nearly $120 million investment, DragonFire’s outing at Porton Down this month was the first time its 50kW lasers and system of mirrors were used at full power – causing the targeted drone to burst into flames when it was zapped. Those invisible beams are being developed to defend against strikes by ground vehicles, boats, planes, UAVs, and even hypersonic missiles.
DragonFire’s ability to adapt its fire power from something as small as a commercial drone to attacking aircraft represents an astonishing degree of tech flexibility and close attention to energy economy. By shifting its laser output to match the size of the threatening craft, the weapon conserves electrical reserves against smaller targets for fuller use by more formidable air or sea assaults.
“This trial is the culmination of design, development, and demonstration activity over a number of years,” said Defence Science and Technology Laboratory technical partner, Ben Maddison. “DragonFire has already successfully demonstrated an ability to track targets with very high levels of precision and to maintain a laser beam on the selected aim-point. This trial has assessed the performance of the laser itself – the outcome shows that the UK has world-leading capability in the technologies associated with laser directed energy weapons systems.”
Although DragonFire’s capacities to tailor operation from incoming missiles to loitering drones would be a godsend to forces in Ukraine currently battling both – and everything in between – MoD says further development and testing of the UK’s nascent laser weapon is still required before deployment is possible.
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The system, which may also serve as the basis for other kinds of future laser weapons, involved private sector partners including image processing and advanced command and control expert MBDA; pin-point beam developer Leonardo; and laser specialist QinetiQ, which was responsible for producing tech generating DragonFire’s scalable, 50kW of power.