December 16, 2008
USAF test fires airborne laser for the first time
U.S. aerospace giant Boeing is seeking new uses for an experimental aircraft-mounted laser designed to destroy enemy ballistic missiles, Concerned that the incoming Obama administration could seek cuts to unproven missile defense programs, the firm is dipping into its own funds to find alternative uses for the Airborne Laser technology. The multi-billion dollar ABL program has been running for more than 12 years. The system potentially could also be used to eliminate incoming aircraft and cruise missiles, according to Boeing. The ABL is designed to illuminate an enemy missile with a laser-tracking beam, while computers measure its distance and calculate its course and direction. After acquiring and locking on to the target, a second, high-power laser fires a three-to-five-second burst from the turret in the 747’s nose. The beam heats up the pressurized fuel tank of the outbound missile and causes it to rupture, destroying the missile.
Built by defense giant Northrop Grumman, it is designed to destroy “all classes” of ballistic missiles, including tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The wreckage will usually land in enemy territory, although collateral damage in surrounding countries would be a concern. An airborne intercept of an in-flight ballistic missile is planned for 2009, at a cost $4.3 billion.