WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army and Raytheon have completed a flight test of a high-energy laser system on an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter that was deemed successful, according to a Raytheon statement Monday.
The recent test at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, "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," the company said.
Raytheon said the test achieved all primary and secondary goals that show a high-energy laser, or HEL, on an attack helicopter can provide high-resolution, multiband targeting sensor performance and beam propagation.
For the test, Raytheon coupled a variant of the Multi-Spectral Targeting System — an advanced electro-optical infrared sensor — with a laser, according to the statement. The MTS provides targeting information, situational awareness and beam control.
The laser tracked and directed energy on "a number" of targets, Raytheon added.
The testing, according to the company, will also guide the future design of HEL systems from data collected related to vibration, dust and rotor downwash on laser beam control and steering.
"This data collection shows we're on the right track. By combining combat proven sensors, like the MTS, with multiple laser technologies, we can bring this capability to the battlefield sooner rather than later," Art Morrish, vice president of Advanced Concept and Technologies for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, said in the statement.
Testing lasers on Apaches has been in the works for some time. U.S. Special Operations Command announced a year ago that it planned to test a laser weapon on an Apache.
Laser development across the Defense Department has kicked into high gear over the past several years as it seeks cheaper solutions to go up against threat targets rather than using expensive missiles. Putting a laser on an Apache that can take out targets would also increase the number of targets an Apache can take out in one mission. Currently, an Apache can hold 16 Hellfire missiles.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.