The UK government is in the final stages of agreeing a £30m contract to develop a prototype laser weapon for the military.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) envisions laser weapons could be used protect against fast moving incoming threats, for example enemy missiles or mortars.
The “capability demonstrator”, a one-off prototype, aims to be operational in 2018/19. As well as developing the technology, the contract will help the (MoD) assess whether there is a place for these weapons in the UK’s arsenal.
“It’s about exploring what these things can do for us,” an MoD spokesman said.
The contract is part of the MoD’s Defence Innovation Initiative, worth £800m over the next 10 years, to develop new technologies to support the military.
The initiative is expected to fund research and development in areas including medical monitoring devices, anti-missile systems, miniaturised surveillance drones and protective materials.
Under the laser weapons contract, missile manufacturer MBDA will lead a consortium of defence, technology and engineering companies to assess how laser weapons technologies can work in real life.
The programme “will put the UK at the fore front of high energy laser systems”, said Dave Armstrong, executive group director technical and UK managing director of MBDA.
“Furthermore it advances the UK towards a future product with significant export potential, as well as providing opportunities for partnerships with other nations’ armed forces that have similar requirements,” he added.
Peter Cooper, of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, a government body, said: “This is a significant demonstration programme aimed at maturing our understanding of what is still an immature technology… to understand the potential of the technology to provide a more effective response to the emerging threats that could be faced by UK armed forces.”
The prototype and its development will help the MoD decide “whether it makes sense to have this kind of technology to defeat incoming threats”, and “whether or not it does perform better than the kinds of technologies we use already,” the MoD spokesman said.
After the demonstration of the prototype there would still be “quite a few years” before the technology was in service, he said.
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