The Army Wants Lasers On Its Apaches By Mid 2020s

(REUTERS/Paul Hanna)

Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
Font Size:

Special Operations Command is joining with the Army’s project office this summer to test the feasibility of mounting a directed energy weapon on an Apache attack helicopter, National Defense Magazine reports.

As per a September announcement, AC-130J gunships are set to be fitted with laser weapons by the end of the decade. Mounting laser weapons on rotary wing aircraft, however, presents a slew of further issues, namely, size.

The weapons the Army is planning to mount in AC-130’s range anywhere from 60 kilowatts to 150 kilowatts. For reference, here’s the 30 kilowatt laser mounted on the USS Ponce in action.

Any laser weapon mounted on an Apache would have to far smaller and account for possible beam distortion due to dust at low altitude as well as increased vibrations that may inhibit beam steering, Col. John Vannoy, program manager for rotary wing told National Defense Magazine.

The military plans to achieve widespread use of laser weapons by 2023, according to Product Design and Development.

Vannoy said it’s become a priority because laser weapons can provide large advantages over conventional armaments such as greater accuracy and decreased cost, if sufficient power can be achieved. Most laser weapons cost just $1 per shot, Vannoy said, and the laser mounted on the USS Ponce costs just ¢59 to fire, as opposed to missiles and bombs that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As is the case with the USS Ponce, the United States employs lasers in either a defensive or offensive capacity on a variety of military assets.

“The Air Force is flying every day with lasers under its transport aircraft, using them as infrared countermeasure system,” said Dr. David Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Science.

According to Walker, each military branch is looking into different applications of laser technology, and High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office oversees each to ensure that all investments are building on each other and not redundant.

Nevertheless, Vannoy cautioned expectations, saying, “I wouldn’t say that we’re at the tipping point and you’re going to see a Star Wars like effect or a Death Star laser hanging off the side of a rotary wing aircraft.”