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In what Raytheon claims is a “breakthrough”, a high-energy laser mounted on an Apache AH-64 helicopter acquired and hit an unmanned target during a test. The test was conducted by Raytheon and the US Army Apache Program Management Office in collaboration with US Special Operations Command at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. It was the first time a fully integrated laser system successfully tracked and shot a target from a rotary-wing aircraft. The fact that the test was successful over a wide variety of flight regimes, altitudes and air speeds, proved the feasibility of laser attacks from an Apache.

Hitting the stationary target, at a slant range (the line-of-sight distance between two points at different levels) of 1.4 kilometres, made possible the collection of data. This data, which includes information on the impact of vibration, dust and rotor downwash on accuracy, will influence further development of high-energy laser systems. According to Art Morrish, vice president of Advanced Concepts and Technologies for Raytheon Space and Airborn Systems:

Our goal is to pull the future forward. This data collection shows we’re on the right track.

For the test, a variant of the Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MSTS), an advanced, electro-optical infrared sensor was coupled to a laser, with the MSTS providing targeting information, situational awareness and beam control.