New British military laser could have 'huge ramifications' for Ukraine conflict

Reforms to the procurement process mean it will now be operational five years earlier than planned

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A new British military laser could have “huge ramifications” for the conflict in Europe, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has suggested.

Expected to be ready for posting by 2027 at the latest, the DragonFire weapon could be rushed on to the front line in Ukraine to take down Russian drones, Mr Shapps said.

The laser was originally set to be rolled out in 2032, but new reforms aimed at speeding up procurement mean it will be operational five years earlier, the Ministry of Defence said.

Mr Shapps told journalists, during a visit to the Porton Down military research hub in Salisbury, that he would look to see if the pace could 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 time frame 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.”

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

The Ministry of Defence 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 into the field.

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Russia-Ukraine war by the numbers, two years on

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“It’s designed to not wait until we have this at 99.9 per cent perfection before it goes into the field, but get it to sort of 70 per cent 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 per cent 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.

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

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

Updated: April 12, 2024, 7:38 PM