Britain to build prototype laser weapon

Defence & Security News - United Kingdom
Britain to build prototype laser weapon
Britain is joining the Star Wars arms race with a new Ministry of Defence project to build and test a prototype laser weapon.The Ministry of Defence will begin building an experimental laser weapon later this year as a prototype for Star Wars-type armaments that could one day be used by British forces. The project costing up to £100 million (€141 million) aims to create a high-energy laser that can track and hit moving targets in any weather.
Britain to build prototype laser weaponUS Naval base tests out Laser weapons (Photo: ONR)

Britain is joining the laser arms race as America has already developed a series of drone-killing and ship-burning lasers and already has one weapon on board a warship in the Gulf. The MOD is looking for defence firms to help build prototype machines “to enhance the UK’s understanding of the capability of a laser based weapon system”.

“The potential of laser based weapons systems has been identified as an opportunity and offers significant advantages in terms of running costs as well as providing a more appropriate response to the threats currently faced by UK armed forces,” according to the MoD.

Trials will test if the prototype can “detect, acquire and track targets at range and in varying weather conditions, with sufficient precision.” It will also have to “generate and precisely control a high energy laser”, while making sure the machinery is safe. The project, known as the Laser Directed Energy Weapon Capability Demonstrator, is worth between £20 million and £100 million according to the MOD. American and European manufacturers have been developing laser weapons for many years. The United States Navy began testing a laser weapon on board a warship in the Gulf last year.

Under the Geneva Convention lasers cannot be used as anti-personnel weapons. He said most lasers in development are being tested to shoot down drones, stop small ships and vehicles, or defend against barrages by missiles and mortars. Their short range means they are unlikely to replace missiles which can hit fast moving, agile targets many miles away.

Recently declassified papers show that Britain deployed laser weapons in the 1982 Falklands War to dazzle Argentine pilots. A top secret 1983 letter from the then Defence Secretary, Michael Heseltine, to Margaret Thatcher said he believed the Soviet Union could be able to field laser weapons by the mid-1980s, though it was not clear how useful they would be. He wrote: “We developed and deployed with very great urgency a naval laser weapon, designed to dazzle low flying Argentine pilots attacking ships, to the Task Force in the South Atlantic. “The weapon was not used in action and knowledge of it has been kept to a very restricted circle.”