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DSEI 2021: MoD awards Thales naval laser demonstration contract

14th September 2021 - 12:30 GMT | by Harry Lye in London

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A laser directed energy weapon will be fitted to a Type 23 frigate for testing in 2023. (Photo: MoD/ Crown Copyright)

Thales will develop a naval directed-energy weapon that will be fitted onto a Type 23 frigate for testing.

UK Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin has announced a swathe of contracts to develop directed energy weapons (DEW), including a naval laser that will be fitted onto a Type 23 frigate.

Speaking on 14 September at DSEI, Quin said: 'We are investing £6.6 billion [$9.15 billion] in research and development across defence over the next four years, reaffirming our commitment to provide the Armed Forces with truly advanced capabilities.

'Directed Energy Weapons are a key element of our future equipment programmes and we intend to become a world-leader in the research, manufacture and implementation of this next-generation technology.'

The naval laser contract is one of three, worth a total of around £72.5 million, to develop advanced laser and RF demonstrators as part of the Novel Weapons Programme.

The contract will see a Thales-led consortium including BAE Systems, Vision4ce, Chess Dynamics, and IPG work for two years on demonstrator that the RN will then trialled for one year.

Thales will act as an overall integrator for the system with BAE Systems will lead on ship integration with IPG sourcing a UK-laser for the work.

Thales in Northern Ireland, which specialises in traditional and novel weapons systems, will lead the project.

MoD Director Strategic Programmes Shimon Fhima said: 'These technologies have the potential to revolutionise the future battlefield for our Armed Forces, enabling the prosecution of new targets in the land, sea and air domains and allowing commanders to meet mission objectives in new ways.

'We must exploit at pace the cutting-edge technologies developed by the talented scientists and engineers across the UK to capitalise on its benefit.'

The lion's share of the £72.5 million will go to Thales, as the company also won a contract for a land-based RF weapon to be trialled by the British Army; however, Raytheon UK also received a demonstrator contract to install a High-Energy Laser Weapon System on British Army Wolfhound vehicles.

Thales Northern Ireland managing director Philip McBride told Shephard the essence of the contract was not necessarily about laser power, but rather CONOPS and how the system is used, maintained and operated.

Demonstration work will explore the practicalities of identifying, tracking and engaging targets with the laser system.

It has not been revealed which Type 23 frigate will be fitted with the demonstrator due to operational availability schedules.

As it is a demonstrator, the laser will not be fully integrated into the ship's battle management system but will be integrated with some key subsystems.

Successful demonstration work could lead to a traditional design and manufacture contract for the laser system and the rollout onto more ships of the RN fleet.

McBride told Shephard: 'The benefits are clear and, even though [we've] demonstrated [it] for a long time, the technology and the power requirements are such now that we can literally field things.

'From an MoD perspective and from a business perspective, precision is all-important. That becomes more and more important as target sizes become smaller. The capability we can provide from our fine tracking and fine pointing is now a level we can track and address those very small targets.'

DEW systems have several potential benefits, including increased precision and reduced risk of collateral damage. Their use is limited only by battery or power generation capacity, not the physical space needed to house missiles or ammunition.

Delivery will be managed by Team Hersa, a partnership of DE&S and Dstl. Hersa will prepare defence for introducing innovative weapons systems and ensuring the armed forces can integrate the systems on current equipment.

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