Apart from the now familiar laser guidance systems for guided weapons, lasers are an emerging weapon capability for countering small craft, missiles, UAS and aircraft.
Although not widely know, the Royal Navy deployed laser weapons during the 1982 Falklands Conflict.
A recently declassified letter from the Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Heseltine) in January 1983 stated;
[su_note note_color=”#c9cfd8″ text_color=”#151715″ radius=”1″]You may recall, however, that we developed and deployed with great urgency a naval laser weapon, designed to dazzle low flying Argentine pilots attacking ships, to the Task Force in the South Atlantic. This weapon was not used in action and knowledge of it has been kept to a very restricted circle[/su_note]
The Laser Dazzle Sight was reportedly developed by the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment and the Admiralty Research Establishment in 1981.
They were also deployed on various ships in the nineties, especially those deployed to the Gulf of Arabia.
The MoD have always made it very clear that these were not designed to blind, but merely dazzle.
More recently, the US has developed and tested a number of ship-based laser systems, although nothing yet is in service. The images below show the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) onboard the USS Dewey, and there have also been trial aboard other vessels.
The latest, of many, contracts for US naval lasers is a $91 million contract to Northrop Grumman for the Solid State High Power Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) program.
Although the UK has been involved with a number of small scale demonstrations through DSTL, the first major development contract was awarded to MBDA in September 2016.
The £30 million Laser Directed Energy Weapon Capability Demonstrator (LDEW CD) will be delivered by a consortium led by MBDA.
The project will assess the technologies and approaches leading to a demonstration in 2018/19
[su_note note_color=”#c9cfd8″ text_color=”#151715″ radius=”1″]This is a significant demonstration programme aimed at maturing our understanding of what is still an immature technology. It draws on innovative research into high power lasers so as to understand the potential of the technology to provide a more effective response to the emerging threats that could be faced by UK armed forces.[/su_note]
The award was commented on by Rear Admiral Paul Bennett;
[su_note note_color=”#c9cfd8″ text_color=”#151715″ radius=”1″]The Royal Navy remains committed to the rapid exploitation of revolutionary concepts and scientific advances. The LDEW project sits alongside other cutting edge initiatives that together keep the Royal Navy at the forefront of change and well placed to be an early adopter of innovative technologies.[/su_note]
Other members of the consortia include;
- BAE Systems
- AE Systems
- Marshall Defence and Aerospace
What can be seen by this membership list is experience and investment in power storage (possibly the biggest issue to deal with), beam combining, sighting and command and control.
MBDA in particular, have been working on lasers for several years.
Read more here
MBDA released imagery of their Dragonfire vehicle-based system in January 2017
Perhaps it is too early in the development to discuss capabilities but clearly, the demonstrator is aimed at naval applications.
The technology will inevitably mature to enable its use in land applications and one of the significant benefits of such technology will be a ‘low cost per shot’, especially important with swarms of low cost guided munitions or weaponised commercial UAV’s. The MBDA systems previously shown all use commercial laser sources, those used in commercial laser cutting tables for example, and this has the potential to also lower the capital costs.
MBDA have also argued that their use of reflective optics (mirrors) for beam forming absorb less energy than competing systems that use lenses.