The UK Ministry of Defence has officially awarded a £30m (US$38 million) contract to produce a prototype laser weapon. The aim is to see whether “directed energy” technology could benefit the armed forces, and is to culminate in a demonstration of the system in 2019. If the demonstration is successful, the first laser weapons could come into service in the mid-2020s.
The contract was picked up by a consortium of European defense firms.
The prototype will be assessed on how it picks up and tracks targets at different distances and in varied weather conditions over land and water.
The demonstrator was not being developed to counter any specific threat, but to assess whether such weaponry could be delivered as a capability for the armed forces.
But in general, directed energy weapons could potentially be used to destroy drone aircraft, missiles, mortars, roadside bombs and a host of other threats.
The US military has been experimenting with high energy lasers for decades. But, until recently, technical hurdles had prevented them from being used on the frontline.
However, the US Navy fielded a laser weapon system called Laws for testing on the USS Ponce during a deployment to the Gulf starting in 2014.
In 2015 the UK Ministry of Defence said it had instructed its development arm, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), to look at building a prototype. DSTL is exploring the role that electric flywheel technology, the kind used in Formula 1 racing, could play to generate and store the power required for high-energy weapons
Beacon Power opened a 5 MWh (20 MW over 15 mins) flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, New York in 2011
William KERS flywheels weigh 40 kg and had about four times the energy density of ultracapacitors.
Advanced flywheels, such as the 133 kWh pack of the University of Texas at Austin, can take a train from a standing start up to cruising speed