Apache Helicopter Fires High-Energy Laser Against a Ground Target at White Sands

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The US army has successfully hit an unmanned target using a high-powered laser mounted on a Apache AH-64 helicopter.

The demonstration was the first time a fully integrated laser system has successfully fired on a target from a rotary-wing aircraft, according to defence company Raytheon who manufactured the device.

The weapon is almost silent and invisible which makes it particularly hard for enemies to detect and could be used on the battlefield in the near future.

A high-energy laser mounted on an Apache AH-64 attack helicopter acquired and hit an unmanned target during a recent firing test at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The test was conducted by Raytheon and the U.S. Army Apache Program Management Office, in collaboration with U.S. Special Operations Command.

The laser, which was tested at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico successfully hit a target 0.9 miles (1.4 km) away.

The demonstration was the first time a laser was ‘fired on a target from a rotary-wing aircraft over a wide variety of flight regimes, altitudes and air speeds,’ the company said.

The laser was manufactured by Raytheon who said their device ‘provides long-range surveillance, target acquisition, tracking, range finding and laser designation’.

Laser systems have been on the Apache since 1984 when it first entered service.

However, they were low-powered and could only guide air-to-ground missiles.

These lasers are particularly accurate because unlike bullets and artillery which fire in an arch, they fire in straight lines and are powerful enough to destroy targets.

The company used an electro-optical intrared sensor – which is a version of the Multi-Spectral Targeting System.

For the test, Raytheon coupled a variant of the Multi-Spectral Targeting System, an advanced, electro-optical, infrared sensor, with a laser.

The MTS provided targeting information, situational awareness, and beam control.

The system tracked and directed energy on a stationary target at a slant range of 1.4 kilometers.

It was the first time a fully integrated laser system successfully shot a target from a rotary-wing aircraft over a wide variety of flight regimes, altitudes, and airspeeds, proving the feasibility of laser attack from Apache.

For the test the laser was coupled with a variant of the Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS) to form a laser weapon pod that could acquire, track and engage the target. Photo: Raytheon

The data collected from the test, including the impact of vibration, dust and rotor downwash, will help shape future high-energy laser systems.

Modern, solid-state lasers are more useful for military applications as they become more powerful and compact.

Podded versions such as the one tested on the Apache could be used on other helicopters in the future, enabling special operations forces and other operators to use kinetic effects with higher precision and lower risk of collateral damage.

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