Raytheon Test Fires a Laser Weapon From a Chopper
Kyle Maxey posted on June 30, 2017 |
Raytheon’s weapons test could signal a sea change in urban warfare.
(Image courtesy of Raytheon.)

(Image courtesy of Raytheon.)

Since the 1970s, laser weapons have excited military brass with the promise of precision strikes and no collateral damage. In recent years, high-energy lasers have started to mature and the military is developing them for use on the land, at sea, in the air and now from gunships that patrol urban areas.

According to Raytheon, an Apache attack helicopter successfully locked on to an unmanned target and hit it with an onboard high-energy laser.

The test, which took place at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, is part of the US Army’s Apache Program, and represents the first time a fully integrated laser system was fired from a rotary wing ship “over a wide variety of flight regimes, altitudes and air speeds” and proved that the laser weapon could track and engage a target reliably.

And that’s a fairly big deal.

Gunships are one of the most effective ways to engage fast moving targets in an urban environment. The problem with these aircraft is that they carry explosive munitions that can take the lives of not only their target, but also innocent bystanders and destroy infrastructure in the surrounding area.

That outcome isn’t acceptable.

However, with a laser weapon, targets could be engaged with pinpoint accuracy and directed energy could vaporize an enemy without creating the same massive explosion that’s associated with a missile.

"Our goal is to pull the future forward," said Art Morrish, vice president of Advanced Concepts and Technologies for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. "This data collection shows we're on the right track."

So, while the gunship test did prove successful, Raytheon is only saying that it moved the ball forward, incrementally, when it comes to laser weapon efficacy. Still, that’s one step closer to cramped urban battles that don’t involve collateral damage.

For on the future of military tech, check out our feature on Engineering the Soldiers of Tomorrow.

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