© The laser Directed Energy Weapon (DEW) mounted on a British Army Wolfhound armoured vehicle
The MOD say that the Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) could revolutionise the battlefield and reduce the risk of collateral damage.
The four-year contract worth £72.5 million has been awarded to a consortium headed by Thales UK and Raytheon UK to produce three weapons.
Two of the weapons are laser demonstrators which will help the Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigate and British Army’s Wolfhound vehicle by detecting, tracking, engaging and countering Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) – more commonly known as drones – as well as other sea and land-based targets.
© A computer generated version of the laser being used to counter Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
The other weapon is a radio frequency demonstrator which will be mounted on a MAN SV truck and used by the British Army to detecting and tracking a variety of air, land and sea targets.
The awarding of the contract will create 49 new jobs across the UK, with 30 of them being based in Northern Ireland at Thales’ Belfast plant.
Minister for Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quin said: “We are investing £6.6 billion in research and development across Defence over the next four years, reaffirming our commitment to provide the Armed Forces with truly advanced capabilities.
“Directed Energy Weapons are a key element of our future equipment programmes and we intend on becoming a world-leader in the research, manufacture and implementation of this next-generation technology.”
The systems are powered by electricity and operate without ammunition significantly reducing operating costs, increasing platform endurance and providing unprecedented offensive and defensive flexibility to personnel on the frontline.
Philip McBride, managing director of Thales Belfast, said: “Winning these contracts is a good news story for Northern Ireland and its reputation as a hub of technology excellence.
“They allow us to expand our capabilities and ensures we are a significant part of MoD’s thinking in developing and delivering Novel Weapons to the British Forces for many years to come.
“The awards also help create a centre of excellence for novel weapons in Northern Ireland and allows us to broaden our skill base and develop the suitably qualified, experienced team we need for the future.”
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson welcomed an announcement saying: “These contracts relate to cutting-edge technologies and it is hugely significant that Belfast is at the centre of this work.
“Thales have a fantastic record in terms of innovation and this announcement is testament to that.
“As part of a consortium from across the United Kingdom, Thales are looking not to the immediate years ahead, but to the challenges future decades will bring.
“They will be playing a central role in contributing to the UK’s defence capabilities, but also further cementing east Belfast’s place at the heart of Northern Ireland’s defence industry.”
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