Lasers that can shoot down drones from armoured trucks are to be used by the British Army for the first time.
The new Raytheon high-energy laser weapon system, together with its all-weather targeting camera, is contained in a battlefield proof housing, which is then mounted on top of the Wolfhound armoured vehicle.
The 15-kilowatt laser, which fires silently, works in tandem with a separate radar to track unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Once a target is identified by the radar, the information is passed to the Command and Control System operated by troops within the Wolfhound vehicle. The soldiers can direct the camera, which locks and follows the target, to assess what the radar has identified and decipher whether it is a friendly or hostile drone.
Using a hand controller the soldier can remove the safety switches then fire the laser at the target.
With invisible beams of light the laser directs electrical energy at the drone which generates huge amounts of heat to burn holes through the target and ultimately destroy it in seconds.
The laser has four million operational flight hours, giving the soldier the ability to destroy an unlimited number of drones.
Julie Finlayson-Odell, managing director of weapons and sensors at Raytheon UK, said: “The arrival of this transformative technology is an important milestone in our collaboration with the MoD on using directed energy to address a variety of threats, from drones and UAVs to more complex missile systems.
“This system is a culmination of decades of investment, research and innovation and its arrival reflects our continued commitment to help fulfil a key strategic objective of the UK’s Integrated Review, which is to understand how directed energy weapons can safely and effectively operate alongside other elements of the UK’s Armed Forces.”
The system has been proven in the US to work in all types of difficult weather as the camera has in-built infra-red, making targets easier to track if weather is bad or there is poor visibility.
It is also compact, portable and can be installed on a variety of platforms, as well as being easy to connect to other air defence systems.
Raytheon sources added that as a system, it offers a nearly infinite number of shots and precision accuracy with very low collateral damage, which makes it an affordable alternative to traditional munitions.
British defence sources confirmed the system will be in the UK next month, where UK industry will prepare it for use by troops as part of the Ministry of Defence’s Land Demonstrator Programme, where the Army tests and experiments with new capabilities.
They added that the laser was a “novel capability”, although cautioned there was “no commitment or formal contract to procure it at the moment”.
Already in use with US forces, the system participated in live-fire exercises earlier this year where it successfully acquired, tracked, targeted and destroyed dozens of drone targets in short-range attack, swarm attack and long-range threat scenarios.
Launching the novel weapons programme in 2019, Penny Mordaunt, the then-defence secretary, said such technologies “have the potential to revolutionise the battlefield by offering powerful and cost-effective weapons systems to our Armed Forces.
“This significant investment demonstrates our commitment to ensuring our Armed Forces operate at the forefront of military technology,” she said.
Laser technology has been developed since the 1960s, but it is only in the past few decades that their serious application in a battlefield context, as directed energy weapons, has been considered.