Fresh from showing off its gotta-zap-'em-all Dragonfire laser cannon, the Ministry of Defence is now buying a £20m anti-drone system.
The "urgent" requirement from the MoD was issued last week, and could be linked to the mischievous Scot who landed his hobby drone aboard aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in August.
"The Capability shall be able to Detect, Track, Identify and Defeat UAS's with weight ranges of between 2-150kg. With a specific area of focus on the 2-22kg and a minimum defeat range of" [sic], stated the contract notice, which appeared to have been cut short in its public form.
The weight limits to be targeted by the system are particularly interesting. The 2-22kg weight range covers most hobby and prosumer drones, other than indoor toys for children. This suggests that the MoD is actively considering the threat posed by camera-equipped drones flying over sensitive areas – or even airborne improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Last October a drone IED killed a number of soldiers in Iraq.
Defending against drones is becoming a headache for virtually everyone, from militaries to law enforcement and private interests. While drone swarms have been a feature of theoretical war games for years ("my 10,000 flying robots will overwhelm your air defence systems designed to shoot down conventional aircraft"), it is only recently that technology has advanced to the point where drone swarms are plausible.
The Dragonfire laser cannon, under development in the UK, can be used against larger drones, according to manufacturer MBDA. With a stated recharge time between shots measured in minutes, however, it wouldn't be much good against smaller drones – hence the contract for a system that can target and presumably destroy these craft.
Conclusions could possibly be drawn about the effectiveness of the counter-UAV system announced in 2015, as bought by the MoD. On the other hand, most of these packages tend to have a shelf life – or a time-limited contract. ®