By Bijan Razzaghi
At the White Sands missile range in New Mexico the US Army tested the Raytheon High Energy Laser System on the AH-64 Apache. This was the first ever use of a laser on a helicopter. The purpose of the test was to test the feasibility of using lasers and other energy weapons on attack helicopter gunships. The video showed the laser targeting what appeared to be a trailer.
Lasers have many uses for combat helicopters including the ability to engage targets with increased precision and to be able to have a lower cost per shot compared to the AGM-114 Hellfire series. The slant range of the High Energy Laser System was 1.4 km and 0.9 miles. This range can give Apaches the ability provided line of site to target enemy mobile air defense systems such as the Pantsir S-1 and 2K22 Tunguska, the laser also has no known countermeasures and would be effective against active protection systems such as the Arena.
The High Energy Laser System would also be effective for use in surgical strikes, as they are absent of shrapnel and shockwaves produced by missiles, in urban areas this can reduce or eliminate the risk of collateral damage. In the future this system can be installed on MQ-9 Reapers or the older MQ-1 Predators.
The High Energy Laser System is still in its early stages of development but it can offer a whole range of new capabilities to rotary wing platforms such as the AH-64 Apache and AH-1Z Viper along with unmanned platforms such as the MQ-9 Reaper. The primary challenge will be providing rotary wing platforms a system that can counter anti access systems such as sophisticated mobile air defense platforms that have been deployed by both state and violent non-state actors recently.