LONDON — Laser technology’s ability to play a growing role in the military drone sector made a showing at the Farnborough Airshow this week.
Both QinetiQ and Raytheon UK pointed to the part lasers can play as militaries increasingly seek to both operate and counter drones.
In an announcement Wednesday, QinetiQ claimed the world’s first successful demonstration of an airborne drone controlled via a laser communication system.
The British defense technology company said the development will bolster the ability of drones to avoid detection when compared with radio frequency technologies, prone to detection and interference.
The March demonstration, which took place on the military training ground at Salisbury, in the west of England, is part of work on the UK’s Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl) air command and control, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance and interoperability project.
The setup included a “QinetiQ-owned small multi-rotor uncrewed platform” flying within a 400 meter test radius, program manager Rob Scott told Defense News. “Further research of the capability’s role [is planned] within a wider crewed uncrewed teaming (CUC-T) concept and associated domain areas,” he added.
Meanwhile, Raytheon UK announced it’s investing in its Livingston, Scotland, plant, creating a European hub to meet growing demand for laser counter-drone systems.
The company said the laser integration center will focus on testing, fielding and maintaining high-energy laser weapons for a growing number of customers in Europe.
“We’ve all seen that asymmetric threats like drones, rockets, artillery and mortars are a serious problem, and demand is spiking for cost-effective lasers to defeat them,” Michael Hofle, senior director of high-energy lasers at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, said in a statement.
The new integration unit is scheduled to be operational next year. Raytheon has not provided details of the investment involved or the number of jobs it will create.
Last year, the Ministry of Defence awarded Raytheon UK a demonstrator contract to provide a high-energy laser demonstrator weapon installed on a Wolfhound truck.
Additionally, earlier in the week, MBDA UK announced it, as part of a consortium, had progressed work to build a high powered laser weapon demonstrator under contract to the MoD.
The Dragonfire consortium, which includes MBDA, QinetiQ, Leonardo and Dstl, said it had successfully conducted low power tests showing the weapon can successfully track air and sea targets with high accuracy.
The trial used a low power QinetiQ laser, Leonardo’s beam director and MBDA’s image processing and control technology to demonstrate ultra-precise tracking accuracy, MBDA said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information from QinetiQ.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.