UK Defense Ministry Targets Laser, RF Weapons

Artist rendering of Thales laser weapon

A laser weapon to be developed by a Thales-led consortium, and demonstrated on a British naval frigate by 2023, is one of three recently signed contracts for directed-energy weapons by the UK Ministry of Defense. [Image: Thales Group]

The UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) recently announced that it had awarded three contracts, amounting to some £72.5-million (US$99 million), to industry consortia that will develop demonstrations of directed-energy weapons for UK naval and army vehicles. The demos—which include both advanced laser and radio-frequency (RF) systems—constitute part of the MOD’s Novel Weapons Program. The program aims, according to the MOD, at tooling up the UK armed forces with “the best possible equipment ready to deal with new and emerging threats.”

Thales and Raytheon UK lead consortia

The consortia undertaking the new weapons demonstrations will be headed up by the defense contractors Thales Group, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Raytheon UK, headquartered in Essex, England. Each of the three contracts will have a four-year term.

Thales will lead two of the three contracts. One of these—which also includes the firms BAE Systems, Chess Dynamics, Vision 4CE and IPG—will aim at producing a high-powered laser weapon system for detecting, tracking and destroying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Under the contract terms, the demo laser system is to be installed on a Royal Navy Type 23 frigate by 2023.

For the other contract, Thales, along with QinetiQ, Teledyne e2v and Horiba Mira, will develop a high-powered RF system to be fitted onto a UK Army MAN support vehicle in the same year, for six months of “user experimentation.” The RF system will be designed to track “a variety of air, land and sea targets,” and then deliver a blast of electromagnetic energy to gum up the target’s critical electronic systems.

Raytheon UK laser vehicle model

The Raytheon UK-led consortuim will develop a laser weapon for demonstration on a UK Army Wolfhound land vehicle. [Image: Raytheon UK]

The third contract inked by the MOD, to be handled by a consortium led by Raytheon UK, will work toward providing a high-energy laser weapon system that would be fitted onto one of the UK Army’s Wolfhound land vehicles for “a period of comprehensive user experimentation.” Raytheon says the system, which would target UAVs in particular, “uses an electro-optical/infrared sensor that prosecutes highly maneuverable threats with precision and relative ease.” The Raytheon-led consortium also includes the firms Frazer Nash, NP Aerospace, and LumOptica.

MOD’s £6.6 billion R&D investment

These three directed-energy weapons contracts form only a small part of a £6.6 billion R&D investment on the ledger for MOD over the next four years. Jeremy Quinn, the UK Minister of Defense Procurement, noted in an MOD press release that the investment flags the ministry’s “commitment to provide the armed forces with truly advanced capabilities.”

“Directed-energy weapons are a key element of our future equipment programs,” Quinn said. “We intend to become a world-leader in the research, manufacture and implementation of this next-generation technology.”

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