The U.S. Military Just Attached a Laser Weapon to an Apache Gunship

The Boeing AH-64 Apache is an American four-blade, twin-turboshaft attack helicopter with a tailwheel-type landing gear arrangement and a tandem cockpit for a two-man crew. It features a nose-mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems. It is armed with a 30 mm (1.18 in) M230 chain gun carried between the main landing gear, under the aircraft’s forward fuselage.

The Apache originally started as the Model 77 developed by Hughes Helicopters for the United States Army’s Advanced Attack Helicopter program to replace the AH-1 Cobra. The prototype YAH-64 was first flown on 30 September 1975. The U.S. Army selected the YAH-64 over the Bell YAH-63 in 1976, and later approved full production in 1982. After purchasing Hughes Helicopters in 1984, McDonnell Douglas continued AH-64 production and development. The helicopter was introduced to U.S. Army service in April 1986. The first production AH-64D Apache Longbow, an upgraded Apache variant, was delivered to the Army in March 1997. Production has been continued by Boeing Defense, Space & Security; over 2,000 AH-64s have been produced to date.

An Apache helicopter just successfully honed in on and hit an unmanned target with a laser gun, according to a press release from Raytheon, the weapon’s manufacturer.

It was 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 Apache hit the target from about 0.9 miles away.

Raytheon combined a version of the Multi-Spectral Targeting System, which is an electro-optical infrared sensor, with the laser during the test, the company said.

Laser weapons are unique in that humans can’t hear or see them, which does not bode well for the enemy, according to the Pentagon. They’re also extremely accurate since they fire along a straight line, instead of an arc, which bullets and artillery shells fire along.

They may also prove one day to be a cheaper alternative to the Apache’s 30mm machine gun and hellfire missiles, which cost about $115,000 each, according to War is Boring.

As Matthew Ketner, branch chief of the High Energy Laser Controls and Integration Directorate in Virginia, told the Army News Service: “Lasers don’t run out of bullets.”

But there are still obstacles to overcome, according to Ketner. Laser weapons use a lot of energy and, at least for now, have a hard time breaking through dust, smoke, and haze.

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