Military

US Army’s Apache Laser Test Begs Questions

By S.L. Fuller | July 20, 2017
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Raytheon said in June that, in partnership with the U.S. Army and U.S. Special Operations Command, it had successfully shot a high-energy laser from a rotorcraft platform for the “first time.” The accompanying information, however, left R&WI with more questions than answers.

It seems like this news is part of a bigger subject. Consider Raytheon’s words from June 26:

The company said it and its partners had completed a successful flight test of a high-energy laser system onboard an Apache AH-64 at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. “The demonstration marks the first time that a fully integrated laser system successfully engaged and fired on a target from a rotary-wing aircraft over a wide variety of flight regimes, altitudes and air speeds,” Raytheon said. “The test achieved all primary and secondary goals, providing solid experimental evidence for the feasibility of high-resolution, multi-band targeting sensor performance and beam propagation supportive of high-energy laser capability for the rotary-wing attack mission.”

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Raytheon added that the system “performed as expected while tracking and directing energy on a number of targets.” It claimed the test data on the impact of vibration, dust and rotor downwash on beam control and steering would shape future high-energy laser system designs.

Raytheon said the test coupled a variant of its Multi-Spectral Targeting System, an advanced electro-optical infrared sensor that provided targeting information, situational awareness and beam control, with a laser.

Raytheon refused to address our questions on the release, the easiest of which might be, “What Apache variant was involved?” It’s difficult to derive an answer from the picture that accompanied the press release (see below) or a video on Raytheon’s website. Perhaps it’s an AH-64D Longbow? That begs the question: “Why an Apache?”

Raytheon and the U.S. Army Apache Program Management Office, in collaboration with U.S. Special Operations Command, recently completed a successful flight test of a high energy laser system onboard an Apache AH-64 at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The demonstration marks the first time that a fully integrated laser system successfully engaged and fired on a target from a rotary-wing aircraft over a wide variety of flight regimes, altitudes and air speeds. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army (PRNewsfoto/Raytheon Company)

Raytheon and the U.S. Army Apache Program Management Office, in collaboration with U.S. Special Operations Command, recently completed a successful flight test of a high energy laser system onboard an Apache AH-64 at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The demonstration marks the first time that a fully integrated laser system successfully engaged and fired on a target from a rotary-wing aircraft over a wide variety of flight regimes, altitudes and air speeds. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army 

Systems integration is not a simple task, especially on an AH-64 of any variant. Not to mention the Apache airframe’s size is not ideal to carry extra weight. Would the laser require an operator to sit in a jump seat? Perhaps the Apache was chosen because the Army is interested in the fully integrated laser system for future use.

If that is the case, then why was Special Operations involved?

Raytheon does not explain what the plans are for the technology. It is unclear what specific requirements may have been for the contract under which Raytheon is working.

There are also questions about the high-energy laser system itself: How much power did the laser require for the test? What were the target damage effects? What ensures target accuracy and stabilizes the beam on a platform with so much vibration?

Some of these specifics are most likely classified. Others may be revealed with time.

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