On 8 November 2022, MBDA announce that the DragonFire consortium (consisting of MBDA, Leonardo, and Qinetiq) had conducted their first high power static firing of the DragonFire High-Energy Laser (HEL) at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s (Dstl) Porton Down test range on 17 October 2022. The test involved generating a beam with a power in the order of 50 kW which was focussed onto a precise point at a distance. Dstl noted that the maximum defined distance over which the trial series were conducted was 3.4 km from DragonFire. However, it should be noted that this does not in of itself represent a maximum effective range figure for the weapon, but rather it merely represents the longest range at which the weapon was tested.
The firing was the second in a series of trials aimed at demonstrating the accuracy and power of the DragonFire HEL. The first trials were conducted in July 2022, and demonstrated that DragonFire was capable of tracking and engaging air and sea accurately. MBDA stated that the next step will be to combine the outcomes of these first two trials, combining the results so far in both tracking accuracy and high-power beam generation, to engage targets in operationally representative scenarios.
The DragonFire consists of a phase-combined laser developed by Qinetiq, with a present maximum power output of 50 kW, coupled to a beam director developed by Leonardo, as well as an image processing, and command and control (C2) system provided by MBDA. The DragonFire project is intended to provide the UK with a domestically-developed HEL weapon capability, and has so far received a total of approximately GBP 100 M in investment from both the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Industry. Looking ahead, HEL weapons are slated to provide users with a cheaper and more accurate alternative to many existing short-range weapons, most notably for the Very Short-Range Air Defence (VSHORAD), Counter-Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (C-RAM) and Counter-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (C-UAV) roles.