Tech

UK gives military’s frikkin’ laser cannon project a second roll of the dice

DSEI 2021 The UK has awarded contracts for laser cannons to be fitted to tanks and warships, a mere five years after first bounding into the field of directed energy weapons.

A government announcement today said that consortia led by Thales and US arms megacorp Raytheon’s UK tentacle would see a new laser weapon being tested aboard one of the Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigates.

The zapper will be “detecting, tracking, engaging and countering Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV),” according to the Ministry of Defence, while the Army gets to have a go at melting drones with a laser gun strapped to one of its Wolfhound armoured trucks.

A radio frequency “demonstrator” used for detecting and tracking nearby drones will also be fitted to an Army-issue Man SV lorry. All of these projects are said to be creating 50 new jobs and keeping a further 250 people employed.

Defence procurement minister Jeremy Quinn said in a canned statement: “Directed Energy Weapons are a key element of our future equipment programmes and we intend to become a world-leader in the research, manufacture and implementation of this next-generation technology.”

The MoD added that £6bn is due to be spent on military R&D over the next four years and that it hopes current projects will be in the practical testing phase “from 2023 to 2025”.

The project is known as Team Hersa, a snappy official nickname for the MoD’s Joint Delivery Office for Directed Energy Weapons. The word Hersa appears to have no known definition in the English language’s mother country, though US-based dictionaries define it as either a type of harrow used in agriculture or an obscure military formation.

Haven’t we heard this before?

This might sound familiar to seasoned Reg readers. That’s because in 2016 the Ministry of Defence awarded a contract to a consortium headed up by French-headquartered missile firm MBDA to build what became known as the Dragonfire directed-energy weapon. Despite promises of a public demonstration of Dragonfire by 2019, everything went mysteriously quiet until a news report surfaced in March this year, suggesting that vital mirrors used for focusing the laser beam were being melted by its intensity.

The US, meanwhile, was experimenting with electromagnetic railguns in the late 2010s, though, like the laser cannon project on this side of the Atlantic, railguns have yet to come out of the experimental stage.

Railguns use electromagnetic force to accelerate a projectile to hypersonic speeds, requiring huge reserves of electrical energy. Their use is therefore confined to warships and static bases – for now. ®


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