Special Operations Command to Test Directed Energy Weapon on Apache

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
An AH-64 Apache

Public Domain

TAMPA, Fla. — Special Operations Command will test a laser weapon on an Apache helicopter this summer, said one official May 26.

SOCOM's program executive office rotary wing is working alongside the Army’s project office for Apache Attack Helicopters to conduct a feasibility test this summer, said Col. John Vannoy, program manager for rotary wing.

“There is absolutely a niche I believe for use of directed energy weapons,” he said during a briefing at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association. “The lens we are looking at this through right now is: ‘Is it feasible to do this?’ We’re not at the point where we’ve laid out a business case to advance it.”

The office envisions using a laser weapon to destroy vehicles or generators versus sending in a missile that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said. 

Vannoy’s office and the Army's Apache office have entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with Raytheon to put a podded laser on the aircraft, he said.

“We really want to understand the environment on the wing, the beam quality we can get off the wing and the ability to beam steer and keep power on a target,” he said. 

Environmental factors such as dust could affect beam quality. In addition, the vibrations on an Apache’s wing could affect steering, he said.

Vannoy did not disclose a specific timeframe for the test or when results would be made public. “Most of that will be internal quite frankly,” he said.

The effort is still in its infancy, he said. “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,” he said.

A directed energy weapon could also be mounted on an MH-60 Black Hawk, he said.

If SOCOM decides to move forward with the effort to equip a laser on a helicopter, PEO rotary wing would work closely with its fixed wing counterparts in the command, he said.

Currently, PEO fixed wing is working in earnest to outfit an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship with a directed energy weapon by the end of the decade. The laser will have between 60 kilowatts to 150 kilowatts of power. 

“We communicate between the two offices daily,” Vannoy said. “There will be limited redundancy. We’ll be working together to advance that. But their requirement, I would expect — and I haven’t seen it, … would be different. They’ve got a larger capacity on a C-130 than we do.”

Directed energy weapons have become an increasingly popular piece of technology in the military because they offer a cheaper cost per shot over traditional munitions. The Navy’s laser weapons system costs $1 per shot, for example.

Topics: Aviation, Rotary Wing, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict, SOF Weapons Systems

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