Airborne Laser still firing

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA--The Airborne Laser (ABL) is showing a lot of life for a program widely reported “dead.”

Jul 15th, 2009

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA--The Airborne Laser (ABL) is showing a lot of life for a program widely reported “dead.” Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates cancelled plans to build a second aircraft, the proposed fiscal 2010 budget includes $187 million for research and testing. And in June, ABL successfully illuminated two test missiles with relatively low-power laser beams.

During the June 6 and 13 tests, ABL immediately detected test missiles emerging from the cloud deck at “a militarily useful range,” said Mike Rinn, ABL program manager at Boeing. “Automatic [target] acquisition went without a hitch.” The Track Illumination Laser located the aim point on the missile nose, the Beam Illuminator Laser then locked onto the target and closed the loops for atmospheric compensation and jitter, and a third laser then illuminated the target at the same wavelength as the high--energy chemical-oxygen iodine laser (COIL).

The acid test will be trying to destroy a test version of an enemy missile with the megawatt-class COIL. The early June flights showed its optics could be kept aligned during an engagement. After firing the COIL in flight at low power, technicians in July will install a new set of turret optics designed to withstand high power. They will ramp up the power, take test shots at target missiles, and finally try to shoot down “foreign missile assets” in early fall. In case of problems, Rinn said, three more test shots could be conducted in the months that follow. For more information, contact Pat Garvey at Patrick.k.garvey@boeing.com.

--Jeff Hecht,
Laser Focus World contributing editor

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