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SOCOM to Test Laser Aboard an AH-64 Apache

 

U.S. Special Operations Command is planning to test a laser aboard an AH-64 Apache some time this summer, according to a briefing held at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA).

SOCOM’s PEO Rotary Wing and the Project Management Office Army’s Apache Attack Helicopter will carry out the test to evaluate the feasibility of an aircraft-carried laser aboard the Army’s premier attack helicopter.

During a briefing on the state of SOCOM rotary wing programs at SOFIC, SOCOM Project Manager Rotary Wing Col. John Vannoy cautioned that the upcoming test is very preliminary. “The lens we are looking at this through right now is: ‘Is it feasible to do this?’ We’re not at the point where we’ve laid out a business case to advance it.”

“What I can tell you is that the vision is not destroying tanks with lasers,” Vannoy said. “If you imagine the timeframe for expending light energy against softer targets, whatever that may be – I’m not discussing units here; I’m talking about vehicles, maybe generators, those kinds of structures – vice sending a missile, which can be very costly, maybe $150,000, you just start devising …a business case. Quite frankly it’s an interesting technology, but we don’t know yet.”

SOCOM and PMO Apache Attack Helicopter have entered a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with Raytheon to develop a podded laser weapon to be hung on the stub wing of an Apache for testing. Raytheon’s High Energy Laser (HEL) systems are said by the company to be modular, scalable designs that can be integrated on a variety of manned and unmanned airborne, shipboard, ground-mobile and ground-based platforms. The HEL use a proprietary solid-state Planar Waveguide structure that the company says generates high power output in a small, compact and rugged design.

“What I can tell you is that the vision is not destroying tanks with lasers,” Vannoy said. “If you imagine the timeframe for expending light energy against softer targets, whatever that may be – I’m not discussing units here; I’m talking about vehicles, maybe generators, those kinds of structures – vice sending a missile, which can be very costly, maybe $150,000, you just start devising …a business case. Quite frankly it’s an interesting technology, but we don’t know yet.”

While the silence and invisibility in the visible spectrum of a weaponized laser, along with the cost, at possibly a dollar a shot, are attractive, the energy requirements, weight, ruggedness and relative lethality of such a weapon from a helicopter platform remain to be seen.

“Again, it’s a feasibility check,” Vannoy said, “looking at whether in the environment on the wing of a helicopter – which vibrates quite a lot – do we have good beam quality, can we steer the beam, looking at some simple answers to how it works.”

While Vannoy acknowledged SOCOM PEO Fixed Wing’s effort to deploy a directed-energy weapon aboard an AC-130 gunship, he stressed that there would be limited redundancy between the two programs, since the AC-130 is a much bigger aircraft with greater capacity than a helicopter.