At White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, The U.S. Army with defense manufacturer Raytheon recently completed an AH-65 Apache attack helicopter flight test using a high-energy laser (HEL) system. The test, according to Raytheon, represented a first for the successful engagement and firing of a fully integrated laser system from the rotary-wing of an aircraft. How will this development impact future weapon’s systems developed for U.S. defense?

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Advanced Sensor And High Energy Lasers 

Using a variant of an advanced electro-optical infrared sensor known as the Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS) and a laser, Raytheon and Army researchers were able to gain targeting information, situational awareness, and HEL beam control, which enabled the Apache system to track and direct energy on targets. The system proved to function successfully when tested under varied flight regimes, altitudes, and air speeds. Raytheon and the Army also collected data on the performance, control, and steering of the laser beam when subjected to vibration, dust, and rotor downwash.

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Image Source: Wikimedia

Enhanced Accuracy And Scalability

The results of the test may set the pace of development for other laser technologies that could soon been used on the battlefield, which has been a focus for the Department of Defense over recent years. In addition their enhanced accuracy and laser based weapons can be scaled to the parameters of a mission, with intensities adjusted to disable or destroy a target. Laser rounds also cost less and could serve to reduce civilian casualties when compared to missiles and conventional artillery. In the specific case of the Apache’s capability, the helicopter can currently hold 16 Hellfire missiles, while the incorporation of a laser weapon would greatly extend its targeting capacity.


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