What’s cooler than an Apache helicopter? Try an Apache helicopter gunship…with lasers.
In what could possibly be some of the most exciting news for 2017, a high-energy laser successfully acquired and took out an unmanned target after it was mounted to an Apache helicopter at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The historical event -the first time a fully-integrated laser was fired from a rotary craft- took place during testing by parent company, Raytheon, was conducted last week and involved the laser being fired from a variety of attack angles, altitudes and airspeeds, tracking and placing directed energy beam on a stationary target at a slant range of 1.4 kilometres.
“Our goal is to pull the future forward,” said Art Morrish, vice president of Advanced Concepts and Technologies for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. “This data collection shows we’re on the right track.”
According to the Department of Defense, both the Army and Navy are increasingly incorporating laser weapons on a variety of platforms, from helicopters to ships and aircraft.
In 2014, the amphibious transport ship USS Ponce was mounted with a 30-kilowatt laser, which has since been tested and authorized for defensive use.
The Army has been ramping up their laser game, shooting down several UAVs with a 5kw laser earlier this year and even mounting on on a Stryker armored vehicle during the Hard Kill Challenge at White Sands.
The Hard Kill Challenge “was to assess and look at technology… to do a ‘hard-kill’ shoot down of Group 1 [UAVs] and inform decision-makers on the current state of technology and how it can deal with single and multiple targets,” said Adam Aberle, SMDC High Energy Laser Division technology development and demonstration lead.
With the battlefield becoming a more common hunting ground for everything from advanced missile and armor platforms to quadcopter reconnaissance drones, the US military has tried to meet such advances with countermeasures that can provide adequate force without waste.
While the lasers require an energy source, technological leaps in power supplies and renewable energy may place an advantage over traditional projectile-based systems in the near future.
After all, lasers don’t run out of bullets.