Following the successful demonstration of the UK’s new DragonFire laser directed energy weapon (LDEW) system earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced the programme will accelerate to be installed on Royal Navy (RN) ships.

The next stages of this development will include further live firings and the manufacture and installation of weapon systems onto RN platforms.

DragonFire was manufactured by a trilateral industrial partnership of Britain’s foremost defence suppliers: MBDA UK, Leonardo UK and QinetiQ.

The first successful demonstration took place at the MoD’s Hebrides range off the north-west coast of Scotland in January. These test firings were the culmination of several years of work, with the programme unveiled in 2017.

With the new security climate jolting nations into stockpiling munitions, DragonFire provides a highly cost-effective alternative. While the programme cost the MoD £100m ($125m), the Government noted that the cost of operating the laser is typically less than £10 per shot.

Following years of research and development, LDEWs are now rapidly transitioning from the sphere of experimental technologies to the actual battlefield as they reach a sufficient level of maturity to warrant deployment.

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Indeed, as LDEW technologies begin to see more extensive testing and operational deployments, strategists and operators are identifying new opportunities and challenges that this technology has the potential to address.

Notably, the RN is not the first service to apply the technology to the maritime surface domain. In fact, DragonFire’s lead contractor MBDA also trialled another LDEW system on the German frigate, FGS Sachsen (F219), which concluded in September 2023. The company have since made progress as it seeks to make the Bundeswehr’s LDEW considerably smaller in the coming years.

Naval Technology has reached out the UK MoD regarding the first ship in the fleet to install DragonFire.

“The specifics of which ships and where onboard is being worked on. However, investment will see LDEW capability across multiple vessels,” an MoD spokesperson commented.

“Significant re-design is not anticipated – the system will have minimal integration to allow for rapid deployment,” the spokesperson added. “The location requires careful assessment and will depend on the platform type, which has yet to be confirmed.”