QinetiQ launches UK ‘centre of excellence’ for laser technology

QinetiQ has opened a new ‘centre of excellence’ for the development and testing of advanced laser technology at its headquarters in Farnborough, UK.

The new facility, named Dragonworks, will serve as a test bed for all technologies associated with high-energy lasers for military or commercial applications. It includes a clean-room to enable work with sensitive optical equipment to be conducted away from contaminants, and the UK’s only Reflective Hazard Assessment Tool (RHAT), designed to examine how laser energy is reflected from different surfaces. Further additions to the building over the coming months will create an environment in which customers can conduct full-scale testing of high-energy lasers.

Steve Wadey, QinetiQ CEO, said: “Dragonworks introduces a brand new sovereign capability, which will significantly enhance the UK’s ability to operate and characterise high energy lasers. It will help our customers to understand the opportunities and challenges associated with this disruptive technology, informing their critical strategic and tactical decisions. We are investing in this asset as part of our strategy to modernise the UK’s test and evaluation services, which will ensure our customers can keep pace with rapid technological advances and maintain their competitive edge.”  

The first project to be undertaken at Dragonworks will be the assembly and testing of the laser directed energy weapon (LDEW) currently in development by the UK’s Dragonfire consortium, led by MBDA. Components will arrive in early 2018, when QinetiQ will begin building the weapon’s laser source in the purpose-built clean room. Over the following months, the laser source will undergo a process of evaluation and adjustment before being integrated with Leonardo’s beam director. The project will culminate in operation at full-power under test conditions inside the facility in summer 2018, before it is transported to MOD Shoeburyness for long-range outdoor trials later in the year. Data collected using the RHAT will inform the safety case for these and future trials, ensuring the reflectivity of targets is fully understood and any risk mitigated accordingly.

Full-scale model of Dragonfire beam director at QinetiQ Dragonworks

Peter Cooper, the Project Technical Authority in Dstl, which manages the Dragonfire contract on behalf of the UK MOD, said:

“This facility is a key step in delivering the Dragonfire project and reflects the continuing UK MOD investment, supported and enabled by industry funding, amounting to tens of millions of pounds in UK industrial skills and capabilities and underpinning UK prosperity.”

Dragonworks and associated projects currently support 27 full-time jobs at QinetiQ, with additional expertise provided by over 50 of the company’s scientists and engineers. The Dragonfire programme contributes millions of pounds to the UK supply chain, which includes a number of innovative small and medium enterprises.

For more information, see our case study explaining our involvement in the UK Dragonfire programme.