Does anyone remember the Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transports from the movie Short Circuit… Johnny 5? Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too? The film featured highly mobile robotics armed with small, directed energy (i.e. laser) weapons, and one scene showed a demonstration of the S.A.I.N.T. robots eliminating enemy tanks, trucks, and the like with ease. Now thirty years later, lasers are coming into their own and the United States Special Operations Command has announced it will conduct its own testing of a directed energy weapon onboard the mainstay of the U.S. Army’s attack helicopter fleet, the mighty AH-64 Apache.
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.