A consortium led by European missile company MBDA has reportedly won the contract to build a laser cannon for the Ministry of Defence, according to unconfirmed reports.
The project, awarded under the Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) demonstrator project announced last year, is for a prototype to demonstrate whether firing a big frikkin' laser weapon at Her Majesty's enemies can be done while meeting five specified goals.
An MBDA spokesman politely declined to comment, referring El Reg to the MoD-owned Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), who cheerily added: "Nothing to say at this time."
The news was revealed by US blog Defense Technology on Sunday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the project.
A couple of months ago the MoD was said to be close to making a decision on who will supply Blighty's blindly brilliant blaster.
A report from respected defence journal Jane's revealed that the key metrics for the LDEW project are to find out whether the laser has:
... the ability to detect, acquire, and track targets at range and in varying weather conditions with sufficient precision; the ability to generate and precisely control a high-energy laser; control of the irradiance of the laser; management of power and cooling demands while enabling operation of the laser over a prolonged period; and control requirements, particularly managing the risks such that the laser is safe to operate.
Power draw will be one of the most critical items on that list. Kable Intelligence reports that MBDA Germany produced a counter-mortar laser air defence system drawing 40kW back in 2012, while the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) reckons that the company is pondering whether to build a 100kW system. Jane's also reported (PDF) that MBDA's 10kW laser system, as tested in 2010, was successfully tested over distances of 1½ miles (2.5km).
“From a technical point of view, it is possible to get an IOC (initial operating capability) with a size of laser up to 50 kW within this decade. This might be possible from a technical point of view, but it depends on the funding,” an MBDA spokesman told Jane's.
For comparison, a Boeing 787's four main 250kVA generators could supply around about 200kW – without taking the aircraft's normal HVAC, avionics and in-flight entertainment system requirements into consideration. The US Missile Defence Agency carried out some trials with airborne laser weapons mounted on a Boeing 747-400F, as the RAeS reported, with the jumbo destroying two out of three tactical ballistic missiles fired in its general direction – but eventually the aircraft was scrapped in 2014 over the huge costs involved.
MBDA's German arm has substantial experience of military laser weapons, having been working on them for many years – and even published an academic paper (subscription required) summarising their achievements.
The MBDA LDEW consortium includes: BAE Systems; Leonardo (formerly known as Finmeccanica, parent company of infamous British helicopter firm AgustaWestland); Cambridge-based Marshall Defence and Aerospace; and Hampshire-based miltech boffinry outpost Qinetiq. The latter firm was reported to be supplying a laser for three different LDEW bids.
One of the rival bids to MBDA's, proposed by US miltech firm Raytheon, featured a Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) having a laser strapped alongside its six-barrelled 20mm Vulcan cannon. The Phalanx system automatically detects incoming threats using its host warship's radars and then blasts targets into eternity at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute. ®