COLOGNE, Germany — British naval vessels are set to receive new laser weapons within a few years’ time that will make shooting down a missile or a drone as affordable as a pint of ale in central London.

The technology goes by the name of DragonFire, developed by MBDA in conjunction with Leonardo UK and QinetiQ. Conceived over three years, defense leaders in London are celebrating it as a poster child of recent defense-acquisition reforms aimed at fielding technology breakthroughs to U.K. forces more quickly.

Using directed energy to down aerial threats promises to revolutionize the business of air defense because it would obviate the need for missile interceptors that can cost millions of dollars. One DragonFire shot is expected to cost £10 (U.S. $12), according to a British Ministry of Defence statement posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Militaries around the world have been experimenting with the technology. Ship-borne deployment is perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit because naval vessels can accommodate the bulky equipment. Still, the routine employment of laser weaponry in combat has so far remained largely an ambition.

Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said April 12 the DragonFire weapon will be ready for installation on Royal Navy ships in 2027, capping a £100 million joint investment by industry and the U.K. Ministry of Defence.

Before that, contractor MBDA will conduct additional live-fire testing and begin building the required units, the company said in a statement.

“MBDA [is] proud to lead this laser weapon program that will give the U.K. Armed Forces game-changing operational advantage to protect and defend themselves, and the U.K.’s strategic assets,” Chris Allam, managing director of the company’s Britain operations, was quoted as saying in a statement.

Fielding the laser weapon in 2027 amounts to a time savings of five years from a previous projection of when such technology would reach U.K. forces, according to a Ministry of Defence statement.

The quickened pace is partly due to a new set of procurement rules that took effect this week. The new guidance allows for the fielding of a so-called “minimum deployable capability,” meaning technology so promising it’s worth rushing into the field for operational use while working out any kinks afterwards.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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