UK laser ‘could be used to target Russian drones on Ukraine front line’

The UK is pushing for the DragonFire weapon to be ready for deployment by 2027.

Nina Lloyd
Friday 12 April 2024 02:55 BST
It is hoped the laser will provide a low-cost alternative to missiles (DSTL)
It is hoped the laser will provide a low-cost alternative to missiles (DSTL)

A new British military laser could be rushed on to the front line in Ukraine to take down Russian drones, Grant Shapps has suggested.

The DragonFire weapon, which is expected to be ready for deployment by 2027 at the latest, could have “huge ramifications” for the conflict in Europe, the Defence Secretary said.

New reforms aimed at speeding up procurement mean the laser, originally set to be rolled out in 2032, will now be operational five years earlier than planned, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Speaking to journalists on a visit to the Porton Down military research hub in Salisbury, Mr Shapps said he would look to see if the pace can be increased even further “in order for Ukrainians perhaps to get their hands on it”.

“I’ve come down to speed up the production of the DragonFire laser system because I think given that there’s two big conflicts on, one sea-based, one in Europe, this could have huge ramifications to have a weapon capable particularly of taking down drones,” Mr Shapps said.

“And so what I want to do is speed up what would usually be a very lengthy development procurement process, possibly up to 10 years, based on my conversations this morning, to a much shorter timeframe to get it deployed, potentially on ships, incoming drones, and potentially on land.

“Again, incoming drones, but it doesn’t take much imagination see how that could be helpful in Ukraine for example.”

Laser-directed energy weapons (LDEWs) use an intense light beam to cut through their target and can strike at the speed of light.

The MoD hopes the DragonFire system will offer a low-cost alternative to missiles by carrying out tasks such as shooting down attack drones.

It has been developed by defence firms MBDA, Leonardo and QinetiQ and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).

The new procurement model, which comes into effect this week, is aimed at speeding up the process of getting cutting-edge developments in military capability like DragonFire out on to the field.

“It’s designed to not wait until we have this at 99.9% perfection before it goes into the field, but get it to sort of 70% and then get it out there and then… develop it from there,” Mr Shapps said.

Asked whether the system might be ready earlier than 2027, he said: “Because I’m here, I’ve taken the opportunity to arrange additional conversations with colleagues about whether we could speed it up even faster, very much using the integrated procurement model of saying there’s a war on – let’s say that it didn’t have to be 100% perfect in order for Ukrainians perhaps to get their hands on it, can we do any better – but 2027 is still the date as of this moment. But of course I’ll look to see what we can do to speed up.”

Mr Shapps said: “In a more dangerous world, our approach to procurement is shifting with it. We need to be more urgent, more critical and more global.”

Dstl’s chief executive Paul Hollinshead said: “This is excellent news, and a real step forward in enabling operational advantage at pace for UK Defence.

“Dstl is all about preparing for the future and the DragonFire technology is a great example of that.”

Russia’s war recently entered its third year with Kyiv grappling to replenish its depleted ranks and a multibillion-dollar package of US support remaining stalled in Washington amid opposition from hardline Republicans.

Ukraine’s energy infrastructure was targeted in overnight missile and drone attacks on Thursday, with more than 200,000 people around Kharkiv left without power, foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

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