Laser Weapons

UK laser weapon development and emerging systems for use against airborne and surface targets like small boats, rockets and missiles

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;

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

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.

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USS Ponce laser

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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.

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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

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.

The award was commented on by Rear Admiral Paul Bennett;

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.

Other members of the consortia include;

  • BAE Systems
  • AE Systems
  • Leonardo
  • Marshall Defence and Aerospace
  • Qinetiq
  • GKN
  • Arke

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.

Table of Contents

RN TLAM 4 Introduction
MBDA Brimstone layout on Tornado Brimstone
MBDA SPEAR 3 Image 2 SPEAR Capability 3
RAF Tornado GR4's at RAF Akrotiri Cyprus being armed with the Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb. Paveway IV
Tornado Storm Shadow Storm Shadow
Royal Navy Submarine HMS Astute Fires a Tomahawk Cruise Missile (TLAM) During Testing Near the USA Tomahawk
FASGW(H) Missile Sea Venom
Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) Martlet (Lightweight Multirole Missile)
HMS Montrose fires Harpoon Harpoon
F-35 UK Weapons Trials November 2014 ASRAAM & PAVEWAY IV shot 2 ASRAAM
RAF Typhoon Aircraft Carrying Meteor Missiles Meteor BVRAAM
Soldier Mans Starstreak HVM High Velocity Missile System During Exercise Olympic Guardian for London 2012 Starstreak HVM
Sea Ceptor missile system FLAADS(M) Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM)
Sea Viper HMS Defender Type 45 Live Fire Sea Viper/ASTER
Fire Shadow Loitering Munition Fire Shadow Loitering Munition
The final pre-acceptance trial of the GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA. Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS)
Spike NLOS Tracked Vehicle Exactor (SPIKE NLOS)
Pictured are elements of the Manoeuvre Support Group MSG from 42 Commando Royal Marines, based at Bickleigh Barracks Plymouth, whilst conducting live firing of the new Light Forces Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (LFATGW) Javelin. 42 Commando Royal Marines were the first UK Armed Force to live fire the new Javelin system. The live fire demonstration was an early opportunity to see the Javelin being live fired in the UK. The future reliance on simulation,rather than live firing will mean that a demonstration such as this will be a rare event in the UK during the service life of the system. This image was submitted as part of the Peregrine 06 Photographic Competition. This image is available for non-commercial, high resolution download at subject to terms and conditions. Search for image number 45145988.jpg ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Photographer: PO (PHOT) Sean Clee Image 45145988.jpg from Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (ATGW)
NLAW Training Aid Next Generation Light Anti-Armour Weapon (NLAW)
Raytheon Defender Laser CIWS Lasers
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September 28, 2016 12:03 pm

The system used by the RN was called Chevage ( Not sure of the spelling it was a long time ago!) From what I remember of working with it it was an industrial laser in a grey box that you could train and elevate and it had a rudimentary sight on it . The firing mechanism, I kid you not, was a bicycle brake handle connected to a shutter on the front that allowed the beam out of the box.

We did some firings during the day and you saw nothing…however at night you got a nice blue green beam. I think it was an argon laser but Im not 100%. It was kept covered in Harbour visits and during tours in foreign ports by dignitaries the question was often asked “whats under the cover” Invariably the answer of its a super secret laser to shoot down planes was met with great laughter and a follow on question of “No really …what is it?”

Harry Nelson
Harry Nelson
September 29, 2016 7:23 am

Gunbuster, remember it well. On a T-22 chilled water was provided to them from No 1 ATU. I recall ours being used at sea during a 5th November display :-)

April 1, 2017 3:46 am

I think that “Persian Gulf” is much more real than “Gulf of Arabia”.

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