New Naval Weapons: Leaving the RCN Behind?

New Naval Weapons: Leaving the RCN Behind?

Dr. Ann Griffiths

In the past few years, we’ve seen some interesting developments in naval (and land) warfare. The Ukrainian armed forces have managed to sink a number of Russian Navy ships using uncrewed surface vessels and uncrewed aerial vehicles (drones). It’s amazing to watch a country without a navy inflict so much damage on another, bigger, country’s navy, and force it to relocate away from the combat zone. These aren’t in the naval arena, but Russia has responded with its new hypersonic missiles, as well as huge numbers of relatively cheap drones it purchased from Iran, and now builds itself. We’ve also seen a small, but well-armed, group in Yemen cause major disruption to international shipping, and force navies to use sophisticated weapons to shoot down missiles and drones in the Red Sea. The United States has been working on directed energy weapons (aka high-power lasers) and has now installed the weapons on several USN ships. The United Kingdom has also been working on these weapons, and on 19 January 2024 successfully tested the DragonFire weapon against aerial targets. According to the UK Ministry of Defence, DragonFire is so accurate, it can “hit a £1 coin from a kilometre away.”[1] While there are certainly challenges with these weapons – particularly the high energy consumption and dependency on environmental conditions – they can fire thousands of 'shots' without ever consuming 'ammo'. It also may solve the problem of having to head to shore to reload VLS missiles.

The trend in naval warfare now is to develop and utilize both complex and expensive weapons (hypersonic glide weapons and directed energy weapons) and cheap but fairly effective weapons (uncrewed aerial, surface and subsurface vehicles). Naval warfare is changing and perhaps the lesson to be learned is that a navy needs to keep up if it plans on participating in naval conflicts in the future.    


[1]  Doug Faulkner, “DragonFire laser: MoD tests weapon as low-cost alternative to missiles,” BBC News, 19 January 2024, DragonFire laser: MoD tests weapon as low-cost alternative to missiles (bbc.com)

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