How Does Britain's New £140m 'DragonFire' Laser Transform Air Defense?

  • #1
Tom.G
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New British LASER is one heck of an anti-aircraft gun!

LIGHT-SAVER

Britain blows up drones with £140m LASER dubbed ‘DragonFire’ in incredible first – with each shot costing just a tenner​

The futuristic laser can destroy a target from miles away with pin point accuracy...

The highly focused laser beam can hit a pound coin from more than a mile away...
(about 23mm, 15/16Inch at 1.6 km)

https://www.the-sun.com/news/10135813/dragonfire-laser-gun-destroys-drone-test/
 
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  • #2
Tom.G said:
(about 23mm, 15/16Inch at 1.6 km)
And $1.30. A long as we are doing conversions.

Honestly, I am a bit skeptical - the development cost is $150M? That seems low, especially with prototypes. For conventional weapons systems - missiles, guns, torpedoes, etc. ir can run several hundreds of millions.

It would be interesting to see the energy requirements.

It would also be interesting to see the countermeasures. It's relatively easy to armor against a laser, but each gram of armor is another fram you have to lift,
 
  • #3
Tom.G said:
The futuristic laser can destroy a target from miles away
Unless it's cloudy?
 
  • #4
If it can shoot down satellites ("The gun - designed to shoot down missiles, planes, drones and even satellites ...") I wonder what happens to an airplane passing through the beam.
 
  • #5
Tom.G said:
with each shot costing just a tenner
BS accounting, that's the marginal cost. Who pays the £140m? Who pays for the other operating costs?
 
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  • #6
phinds said:
I wonder what happens to an airplane passing through the beam.
"What's the last thing that goes through the pilot's head?"
"The beam."

Seriously, I can't see this thing shooting down satellites unless they are still on the ground. The laser heats the atmosphere, changing the index of refraction, turning it into a diverging lens. This has been known for about 40 years.
 
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  • #7
Vanadium 50 said:
Seriously, I can't see this thing shooting down satellites unless they are still on the ground. The laser heats the atmosphere, changing the index of refraction, turning it into a diverging lens. This has been known for about 40 years.
I agree. I didn't believe it when I read it but decided to comment anyway. I never let a little thing like common sense slow me down. :smile:
 
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  • #8
Vanadium 50 said:
Seriously, I can't see this thing shooting down satellites unless they are still on the ground. The laser heats the atmosphere, changing the index of refraction, turning it into a diverging lens. This has been known for about 40 years.
It depends on the beam parameters. There are ranges where you get focusing (example).
I'm sure they studied the propagation of the laser beam through the atmosphere.
 
  • #9
mfb said:
There are ranges where you get focusing
Yes there are. The trick is to get the satellite to fly to the right spot before you shoot it.
 
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  • #10
Why does the article call this a first? Maybe it's a first for the UK, but it's not a first worldwide. So-called directed energy weapons, or DEWs (lasers being one example), are a hot topic right now driven largely by the cost asymmetry between traditional SAMs and small drones.

The US Army, for example, has actually deployed the prototype DEW in the form of its directed energy maneuver-short range air defense (DE M-SHORAD). See: https://www.army.mil/article/270134...ered_to_4_60th_air_defense_artillery_regiment

But I agree that £140M is remarkably inexpensive unless it was building off of previous work that wasn't included in that.
 
  • #11
Tom.G said:
Britain blows up drones
Does this imply a relatively low power /low mass target?
 
  • #12
Vanadium 50 said:
It's relatively easy to armor against a laser, but each gram of armor is another fram you have to lift,
I wonder how much this press release is part of the chess game. The main countermeasure to laser weapons is to coat your missile with a reflective coating. Reflective coatings reflect radar as well as optical frequencies, so it's hard to make a missile that is both radar stealthy and can fend off a laser attack. I believe that many/most anti-missile defense systems primarily use radar to guide the countermeasures, so adding a laser weapon into this may be to try to ensure that stealthy incoming missiles have another obstacle...
 
  • #13
Vanadium 50 said:
Seriously, I can't see this thing shooting down satellites unless they are still on the ground. The laser heats the atmosphere, changing the index of refraction, turning it into a diverging lens. This has been known for about 40 years.
It’s not about “shooting down” a satellite. That’s messy and tends to result in indiscriminate Kessler attacks on everyone. Lasers are very well suited to perform a mission kill on a satellite. If you can fry the optics of a reconnaissance satellite, or damage the antenna of a communications satellite, it’s out of the game.
boneh3ad said:
So-called directed energy weapons, or DEWs (lasers being one example), are a hot topic right now driven largely by the cost asymmetry between traditional SAMs and small drones.

The US Army, for example, has actually deployed the prototype DEW in the form of its directed energy maneuver-short range air defense (DE M-SHORAD). See: https://www.army.mil/article/270134...ered_to_4_60th_air_defense_artillery_regiment
Bingo. That’s the niche that they’re probably aiming for. See below.
sophiecentaur said:
Does this imply a relatively low power /low mass target?
berkeman said:
I wonder how much this press release is part of the chess game. The main countermeasure to laser weapons is to coat your missile with a reflective coating. Reflective coatings reflect radar as well as optical frequencies, so it's hard to make a missile that is both radar stealthy and can fend off a laser attack. I believe that many/most anti-missile defense systems primarily use radar to guide the countermeasures, so adding a laser weapon into this may be to try to ensure that stealthy incoming missiles have another obstacle...
If you’re sinking the costs into a low-observable cruise missile, it’s going to be worth using an interceptor on it. Lasers, as mentioned above, are to fix the cost disparity and depth of magazine issues that low-cost sUAS/loitering munitions introduce. How much does a Ukranian War type FPV drone with a shaped charge warhead cost? A grand, tops? How about a Shahed-class drone? 10k or so?

Is it worth expending a multi-million dollar Patriot or SM-2 missile on that target when you might need it in a week for, say, an incoming Iskander ballistic missile, or an anti-shipping ballistic missile? Not really, but there’s also not much out there right now to tackle the high volume, low cost munition swarm attacks right now. Lasers are a way to try and address that threat profile. It’s not going to be a fix-everything solution, but as part of a holistic approach to SHORAD, it’s a valuable tool.

Personally, I think pairing a laser with a neighboring, datalinked auto cannon firing proximity fused shells would be a good SHORAD teaming. Laser would make short work of an FPV drone, and the auto cannon would be a cost-effective way to tackle the larger and more expensive, but still cheap, loitering munition angle.
 
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  • #14
Flyboy said:
That’s the niche that they’re probably aiming for.
I see what you did there... :wink:
 
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  • #15
berkeman said:
I wonder how much this press release is part of the chess game.
Perhaps more like "Who wants to be a millionaire". It's hype, and there are dollars...er...sterling at stake.

There are two asymmetries driving this. The tactical one is that drones are cheap and warships are expensive. Even their ammunition is expensive. It is still effective to use a done as a weapon if it has a very low success rate, providing you can produce enough of them.

This happened previously with the invention of the torpedo. Eventually, countermeasures were developed - the naval "destroyer" is called that because it evolved from the "torpedo boat destroyer", and the situation stabilized with fewer, more capable torpedoes released from fewer, mroe capable platforms.

The same will happen with drones, and you're already seeing increased attention to electronic countermeasures.

Personally, I think the real potential for lasers is in defensive technologies, perhaps as a successor to the Phalanx CIWS and similar. We shall see.

The other asymmetry is that the West has chosen to consider "low-intensity conflict" more as a law enforcement problem than warfare. And that is substantially more expensive. "We'll catch those responsible and bring their leaders to justice" is a very expensive proposition. Opponents of the West can lose every battle tactically, so long as they make it sufficiently expensive that the West decides "it's just not worth it".

To continue along the path they have chosen, the West needs to make things cheaper for themselves, more expensive for their adversaries, or both. This development should be viewed in that light.
 
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  • #16
berkeman said:
I wonder how much this press release is part of the chess game. The main countermeasure to laser weapons is to coat your missile with a reflective coating. Reflective coatings reflect radar as well as optical frequencies, so it's hard to make a missile that is both radar stealthy and can fend off a laser attack. I believe that many/most anti-missile defense systems primarily use radar to guide the countermeasures, so adding a laser weapon into this may be to try to ensure that stealthy incoming missiles have another obstacle...
Air/missile defense platforms already employ a variety of seeker options, including radar and infrared.

Flyboy said:
Personally, I think pairing a laser with a neighboring, datalinked auto cannon firing proximity fused shells would be a good SHORAD teaming. Laser would make short work of an FPV drone, and the auto cannon would be a cost-effective way to tackle the larger and more expensive, but still cheap, loitering munition angle.
I believe something similar to this was recently tested at WSMR. I seem to recall seeing a headline along those lines but can't seem to find it.

Either way, the key is that drones come in all kinds of size classes and defeating one class is not necessarily a great solution to defeating another. The solution, at least according to the US DoD, is a layered air defense system that includes a variety of kinetic and non-kinetic defensive weapons to defeat a variety of threats.

Vanadium 50 said:
Personally, I think the real potential for lasers is in defensive technologies, perhaps as a successor to the Phalanx CIWS and similar. We shall see.
This is already in an operational test phase with (at least) the US Navy: https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/heres-our-first-look-at-a-helios-laser-armed-navy-destroyer

Vanadium 50 said:
The other asymmetry is that the West has chosen to consider "low-intensity conflict" more as a law enforcement problem than warfare. And that is substantially more expensive. "We'll catch those responsible and bring their leaders to justice" is a very expensive proposition. Opponents of the West can lose every battle tactically, so long as they make it sufficiently expensive that the West decides "it's just not worth it".
It's still a lot less expensive than a full invasion, but the effectiveness is debatable. I would otherwise agree.
 
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