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Royal Navy to Deploy Advanced Laser Weapons by 2027

Dragonfire laser
Courtesy Dstl / Royal Navy

Published Apr 12, 2024 4:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy's surface warfare leaders have been frustrated with the slow pace of development of a laser air-defense system for shipboard service. The Houthi drone campaign in the Red Sea has shown the potential value of a system that could shoot down endless swarms of slow-moving targets at near-zero cost - but even after decades of R&D, such a system does not yet exist at deployable scale in the United States. In Britain, it does, and the Royal Navy will be getting laser air-defense weapons starting in 2027. 

The UK's DragonFire is a combined beam fiber laser in the 50 kW class, and was designed to defeat drones and mortar shells. Britain's ministry of defense spent a few humdred million dollars to develop it, a fraction of the multi-billion-dollar budget for U.S. laser weapons programs. 

"DragonFire shows the best of the UK at the forefront of military technology, and we will not delay in getting it in the hands of our military to face down the threats we’re facing," said UK defense minister Grant Shapps on Friday. 

DragonFire's makers claim to have cracked one of the biggest problems with laser weapons: the extended time period that the beam must be on target in order to burn through and defeat it. Conventional weapons hit instantaneously; laser weapons hit cumulatively. DragonFire is designed to reduce this challenge with a concentrated, combined beam.  

The Royal Navy was planning to deploy DragonFire from 2032, but it has moved up the timeline and will now begin installation in 2027. 

“We recognize this cutting-edge UK laser weapons technology as highly relevant and the need to accelerate it into service on board our ships at the earliest opportunity," said Captain Matt Ryder, Head of Above Water Battlespace in the Royal Navy’s Develop Directorate. “In the Southern Red Sea, we see a very relevant and current example of where laser weapons could provide an additional layer of defense to protect shipping, at a potentially much lower cost per shot."