The British Ministry of Defence announced July 9 that it’s investing up to $160 million in testing, procuring, and fielding directed energy weapons for their three military branches, starting with tests on Royal Navy ships and Army vehicles by 2023. Directed energy weapons require serious juice from a generator or other power source but can inflict targeted damage without ammo.
Britain’s plans center on three demonstration weapons that use lasers or radio waves to damage enemy forces and equipment.
One is a British-designed weapon that earned a lot of attention. The Dragonfire laser weapon system packs a 50 kW laser that is a significant jump from the American 30 kW laser once deployed on the USS Ponce for training. (The American program aims to eventually support weapons up to 300 kW, and American researchers are part of the current U.K. effort.)
The lasers are primarily aimed at taking out drones, mortars, rockets, planes, and missiles that have already come close to the laser-armed vehicle or ship. Traditional interceptors like missiles will deal with targets further away.
(U.K. Ministry of Defence, Crown Copyright)
In addition to lasers, England will be testing radio frequency weapons that could disable target computers and electronics.
According to a Ministry of Defence press release, “The MOD also has over 30 years’ experience in Radio Frequency DEW, during which time the UK has become a world leader in developing new power generation technologies and a global hub for the performance testing and evaluation of these systems.”
Britain is creating and staffing a joint programme office to oversee this new effort, and they expect that the demonstrator weapons will be ready for broad fielding with 10 years.
“Laser and Radio Frequency technologies have the potential to revolutionise the battlefield by offering powerful and cost-effective weapons systems to our Armed Forces” said British Defence Secretary Penny Mourdant.