DragonFire: Laser fire power

Once purely the domain of science fiction, laser weapon technology is now a reality of the modern battlespace, with Leonardo playing a crucial role.

The UK DragonFire consortium – led by MBDA, and comprising Leonardo and QinetiQ – has brought together the best of relevant UK industry expertise to develop a Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) Capability Demonstrator Programme (CDP) on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), under contract to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

This new UK sovereign capability is designed to provide short-range air defence and close-in protection for naval vessels using a range of different effects depending on the tactical scenario. These include identifying, tracking and deterring a potential threat by dazzling its targeting sensors, as well as damaging or even destroying the incoming threat.

LDEW technology could revolutionise the future battlefield by allowing armed forces to operate without ammunition, reducing the risk of collateral damage.

Leonardo is providing the system's beam director, which is integrated into a turret to aid the advanced targeting of the incoming threat at various ranges and in varied weather conditions over land and water. The technology is critical to DragonFire and presents a major engineering challenge: to deliver ultra-precise tracking/pointing accuracy and stability, at long range, in order for a laser to defeat the target. This must be maintained while the target is moving, the platform carrying the laser system is moving and there is atmospheric interference in between the platform and the target.

Live trials

November 2022

At the MOD’s Porton Down range, Leonardo proved the tracking capability of its new laser beam director as part of the ongoing LDEW trials. The DragonFire demonstrator was fired at targets over several ranges, demanding pinpoint accuracy from the beam director. The results so far have been impressive, with pinpoint accuracy maintained at long ranges. The next step will be maturing this technology and developing it into a battlefield-ready suite of capabilities.

January 2024

The DragonFire laser directed energy weapon (LDEW) system achieved the UK’s first high-power firing of a laser weapon against aerial targets during a trial at the MOD Hebrides Range. This was delivered by Dstl and the DragonFire partners – MBDA, Leonardo and QinetiQ.

Leonardo’s involvement in the DragonFire consortium reinforces its position as the world’s leading authority in laser technology and advanced targeting. The company is responsible for around 60% of the international market for high energy military lasers, including supplying the targeting system laser for the F-35. Additionally, as a founding member of the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) – the international programme to create a next-generation combat air system – Leonardo is currently developing advanced Electro-Optic/InfraRed (EO/IR) capabilities as part of the new aircraft’s Integrated Sensing and Non-Kinetic Effects (ISANKE) system.