Watch: Declassified footage of UK DragonFire laser weapon in action

The laser directed-energy weapon (LDEW) could provide a cheaper alternative to missiles

The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has released declassified footage of its DragonFire laser weapon.

DragonFire shoots a high-power beam at the speed of light. It’s so precise, it can fry a target the size of a coin from a kilometre away.

This “never seen before” footage and imagery shows the laser cannon in action at a site in the Hebrides, a remote archipelago off the coast of Scotland. The video also includes CGI footage of the laser weapon zapping military drones out of the sky — one of DragonFire’s potential real life use cases.

DragonFire is being developed for the MoD by the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, and industry partners including British aerospace firm Leonardo and defence specialists QinetiQ.

The laser weapon could offer a low-cost alternative to short-range missiles, which are often more expensive than the targets they’re intended to destroy. This could apply to conflicts such as the current Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, which have largely relied on drone warfare.

“This type of cutting-edge weaponry has the potential to revolutionise the battlespace by reducing the reliance on expensive ammunition, while also lowering the risk of collateral damage,” UK defence minister Grant Shapp said in January. The MoD predicts that firing the DragonFire system will cost just £10 (€11.7) per shot.

the dragonfire laser weapon
The DragonFire laser weapon directs huge amounts of energy at small objects, and can burn through solid steel. Credit: DragonFire consortium
image of drone zapped by dragonfire laser weapon
A test drone that was zapped by the DragonFire during a recent test in Scotland. Credit: DragonFire consortium

Under development since 2017, the laser weapon cost around £100mn (€117mn) to build. DragonFire could be installed on military vessels in five years’ time — although some major hurdles remain.

While the idea of zapping enemies for super cheap unsurprisingly appeals to military forces (the US and Russia are also developing their own laser weapons), there is a reason why the tech is still at the experimental stage.

Laser directed-energy weapons, as they’re known, beam kilowatts-worth of energy at a target, burning anything in their path. While cheap to operate, they are expensive to build and there’s still one major issue that has yet to be overcome: they can only operate in clear skies — no clouds, no rain, or fog can be present.

Nevertheless, with fat military budgets (the US alone is spending $1bn on laser weapon R&D each year) and some of the brightest scientific minds, it will, in all likelihood, only be a matter of time before deadly laser cannons become part of the arsenal of armies.


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