Deadly DragonFire laser fast-tracked as Britain plunged into ‘pre-war’ era

British troops will be able to use cutting-edge laser technology five years earlier than expected after Grant Shapps oversaw a red tape bonfire to speed up procurement.

The move comes as the Defence Secretary warned “urgent” action was needed to protect Britain in a “pre-war” era.

The new defence procurement model, which came into force this week, will mean Royal Navy warships will have the DragonFire laser system in place for the first time from 2027 – several years earlier than previously projected.

The weapon, which is designed to shoot down drones, missiles and planes with “pin point accuracy”, is able to strike a £1 coin from over a kilometre away.

The laser heats up to more than 3,000C in less than a second and effectively burns a hole in its target.

The range of DragonFire is classified, but it is a line-of-sight weapon and can engage with any visible target and is particularly effective against drones and missiles, breaking them up mid-air.

Sea Viper missiles fired in recent months from the HMS Diamond, a Type 45 destroyer, against Houthi drones and missile attacks in the Red Sea, cost around £1 million each.

Meanwhile, the cost of operating DragonFire is typically less than £10 per shot.

Firing it for 10 seconds is the cost equivalent of using a regular household heater for just an hour, making it a long-term low-cost alternative to missiles.

British scientists are also racing to develop radio frequency weapons capable of firing magnetic pulses at enemy targets which would cut off their power supplies.

Mr Shapps said: “The biggest waste of money in defence is down to delay.

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

“Our widespread reforms will deliver the latest kit and weaponry for our Armed Forces faster and help identify export opportunities that can boost the UK economy.

“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.”

Under contract from Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), on behalf of the UK MOD, DragonFire has been developed in collaboration with UK industry partners MBDA, Leonardo and QinetiQ.

Dstl’s Chief Executive Paul Hollinshead said: “This is excellent news, and a real step forward in enabling operational advantage at pace for UK Defence.

“Dstl is all about preparing for the future and the DragonFire technology is a great example of that.

“Our scientists along with industry partners have worked tirelessly to bring laser technology to where it is today, one which I am proud to say is a UK sovereign capability.”

While industry experts expect most developed countries are currently working to develop laser weapons with various levels of success and maturity, they are confident that the UK is progressing faster with coherent beam-combining technology that has the potential to be scaled up to a higher level.

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