A Army Apache helicopter just successfully targeted and hit an unmanned target with a laser gun, according to a press release from Raytheon. 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, 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 prove to be a cheaper alternative to the Apache’s 30mm machine gun and hellfire missiles, which cost about $115,000 each. 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.”
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. Still, the military has increasingly looked to laser weapons. There has been an operational 30-kilowatt laser mounted on the USS Ponce since 2014.
More recently, the Air Force announced it had plans to test a laser weapon on an AC-130J gunship, and that they were working on arming B-52 bombers with defensive lasers. Last month, the Army also announced that it successfully shot down a drone with a laser.