The Daily Telegraph
Laser weapons to be trialled by UK forces
Laser weapons are to be trialled by the Army and Royal Navy for the first time, a defence minister is to announce today. If successful, a new generation of hi-tech battlefield lasers could be in service within a decade. On the first day of a trade show in London, the minister for defence procurement will say an extra £72.5 million has been made available for the Mod’s “novel weapons programme”. Trials of laser and radio-frequency weapons will take place in 2023, Jeremy Quin will say.
LASER weapons are to be trialled by the Army and Royal Navy for the first time, a defence minister is to announce.
If successful, a new generation of hitech battlefield lasers could be in service within a decade.
On the first day of a trade show in London, the minister for defence procurement will say today an extra £72.5 million has been made available for the Mod’s “novel weapons programme”, The Daily Telegraph understands.
Trials will take place in 2023 of laser and radio-frequency weapons mounted on a Type 23 frigate and a Wolfhound vehicle, Jeremy Quin will say.
Justin Bronk, a specialist in air power and technology at the Royal United Services Institute, said the use of drones by IS extremists in Iraq and Syria showed these weapons were “very much needed”. “The technology [of laser weapons] is maturing rapidly. There’s the promise of some really quite useful capabilities for short-range air defence.”
However, he cautioned, “a lot of the time these systems are limited to lineof-sight [and] almost universally very short range”.
Laser technology has been steadily developed since the Sixties, but it is only in the last few decades that their serious application in a battlefield context, as directed energy weapons, has been considered.
Modern armed forces use lasers for range-finding or for directing munitions, such as missiles.
The power of lasers can be reduced by atmospheric humidity and dust, but the MOD is confident recent investments in research mean the technology could now be used as a weapon itself.
Battlefield lasers will be used to either physically damage an incoming aircraft, missile or drone so it is no longer able to fly and crashes, or burn parts of the subsystems so the weapon cannot work properly. “A couple of seconds dwell time … with even a relatively low end laser system is usually sufficient [for drones],” Mr Bronk said.
The radio-frequency weapon is designed to interfere with the signal from a controller to a drone. However, whilst the use of microwave energy could target multiple threats such as drone swarms, potentially it could also have an impact on civilian infrastructure. Hospitals and vehicles on motorways could be collateral damage. “It’s not a very good way to win hearts and minds,” Mr Bronk said.
The laser weapon is expected to have an effect over much longer ranges than the radio-frequency system, to counter the greater speed of an incoming missile.
The Government’s recent Integrated Review of foreign, defence, security and development policy said “higherrisk research” was to be a priority for the MOD.
“Over the next four years, we will invest at least £6.6 billion of defence funding in advanced and next-generation [research and development] to develop an enduring military edge in areas including space, directed energy weapons and advanced high-speed missiles,” the document said.
Elsewhere at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) event, Mr Quin is expected to face tough questioning over the future of the army’s Ajax armoured vehicle.
The programme, which has already cost the MOD £3.2 billion, has been beset with problems.
Trials of the vehicle, 589 of which are due to be delivered to the Army by contractor General Dynamics Land Systems UK, are currently halted due to excessive noise and vibration.
More than 300 soldiers have been examined for hearing damage. Symptoms that could indicate a risk of prolonged use of the platform possibly leading to Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome have also been reported.
In a statement to Parliament earlier this month, Mr Quin said: “Until a suitable suite of design modifications has been identified, tested and demonstrated, it is not possible to determine a realistic timescale for the introduction of Ajax vehicles into operational service with the Army.
“We will not accept a vehicle that is not fit for purpose.”
Defence experts have interpreted his comments as possibly positioning the MOD to be able to cancel Ajax, provided the Government was protected from any future commercial legal action.
Coincidentally, BAE Systems will be showcasing the CV-90 family of armoured vehicles at DSEI, a competitor vehicle to Ajax that is already in service with many armed forces.