Laser weapons are to be trialled by the British Army and Royal Navy for the first time, a defence minister is to announce, with a new generation of high-tech battlefield lasers potentially in service within a decade.
Speaking on the first day of a defence trade show in London, the minister for defence procurement will say on Tuesday that an extra £72.5 million has been made available for the MoD’s “novel weapons programme”, The Telegraph understands.
Trials will take place in 2023 of laser and radio frequency weapons mounted on a Type-23 frigate and a Wolfhound vehicle, Jeremy Quin will say. Full capabilities are expected to be in service within 10 years.
Launching the novel weapons programme in 2019, Penny Mordaunt, 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.
Justin Bronk, a specialist in air power and technology at the Royal United Services Institute, said the use of drones by IS extremists in Iraq and Syria showed the laster weapons were “very much needed”.
“The technology [of laser weapons] is maturing rapidly. There’s the promise of some really quite useful capabilities for short-range air defence.”
However, he cautioned, “a lot of the time these systems are limited to line-of-sight [and] almost universally very short range.
“They can’t do things that a missile or shell can do, notably go over hills and bypass buildings. That imposes some quite significant limitations on how broad they can be used as a replacement for missile-based capabilities.”
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.
Modern armed forces use lasers for range-finding or for directing munitions, such as missiles.
The power of lasers can be reduced by atmospheric humidity and dust, but the MoD is confident recent investments in research means the technology could now be used as a weapon itself.