It can take down hostile UAVs using nothing more than a highly concentrated beam of light. And, with a sufficient power source, it can fire indefinitely, at a fraction of the cost of traditional ammunition.
The arrival of Raytheon’s high-energy laser weapon system in the UK, for the first time, marks a significant milestone in a demonstrator contract to supply the UK Ministry of Defence with a high-energy laser system. Military and industry experts are examining its strategic importance, its series of trials, and what it means for the future of defence in the United Kingdom.
"What we've developed is a response to a rapidly evolving threat landscape," said Mike Cooper, Raytheon UK's head of Strategy and Business Development for Novel Systems. "Directed energy has been an aim of the defence industry for decades. But it was no small task to transition from labs to the battlefield."
Investment in emerging technology
The UK government has earmarked £6.6 billion for research in emerging weapons technologies over the next four years, driven by the need for a low-cost-per-shot way to defend against drones, artillery shells and mortars.
"There's a major cost differential in what we have to spend to defend against relatively inexpensive threats," said Julie Finlayson-Odell, managing director of weapons and sensors at Raytheon UK. "With a high-energy laser system, where the cost per shot is significantly lower, we can take down an entire swarm of drones."
The laser system has passed rigorous testing in multiple climates, demonstrating its ability to acquire, track and defeat drone targets under various scenarios. "Partnering with Raytheon's established, operational technology fast-tracks the development of UK directed-energy solutions," Cooper said.
A British supply chain
Raytheon UK has engaged a powerful British-based supply chain to support this technological leap. Contributors include Fraser Nash, NP Aerospace, LumOptica, Blighter Surveillance Systems, and Cambridge Pixel. "Our nationwide team will deliver a UK-designed command and control system," said Cooper. "We're showcasing the best in British technology and delivering social value through our cross-UK partnerships with SMEs."
Centre for Laser Integration
Raytheon UK has also officially opened an advanced laser integration centre in Livingston, Scotland, a testament to the firm's commitment to the UK's directed energy capabilities. "Our investment in this centre positions us for growth in this key market and further helps the UK government in their ambition to have indigenous onshore capability in all directed energy weapons,," said Finlayson-Odell.