ABL team takes aim at budget cuts

Just as the U.S. government was pondering the future of the Airborne Laser (ABL) project, the Boeing-led ABL team announced in early December the successful completion of a series of tests involving its high-energy laser at the Systems Integration Lab at Edwards Air Force Base, CA.

ST. LOUIS, MO - Just as the U.S. government was pondering the future of the Airborne Laser (ABL) project, the Boeing-led ABL team announced in early December the successful completion of a series of tests involving its high-energy laser at the Systems Integration Lab at Edwards Air Force Base, CA. The announcement came less than two weeks after Reuters reported a request from the White House that the Pentagon consider dropping the ABL project from the 2007 budget.

When initially launched by the Air Force in 1996 the estimated cost was $2.5 billion with a projected deployment of the completed weapon system in 2006. Cost estimates have since climbed through $5 billion and projected deployment dates pushed out through 2010. According to Reuters, the White House budget office views the ABL as a “high-risk” program and a candidate for termination.

According to the ABL team, however, the project “remains intact.” During the recent test series lasing duration and power were demonstrated at levels suitable for the destruction of multiple classes of ballistic missiles. The tests included more than 70 separate lasing events, as well as operation at simulated altitude, and achieved steady-state operations under full optical control, according to Boeing. The ABL megawatt-class Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) is designed and built by Northrop Grumman (Los Angeles, CA).

In July 2005, the ABL team completed flight testing of the system’s passive mission payload at Edwards Air Force Base. During those tests, the team demonstrated the stability and alignment of the two beam control and fire control optical benches with the turret. That test also demonstrated the system’s pointing and vibration control functions, as well as its ability to acquire targets as directed by the battle management segment. The next step for the program is integrated systems testing.

The ABL YAL-1A aircraft has been moved to Boeing’s Wichita facility for final modifications in preparation for installation of the High Energy Laser modules, and to begin Low Power System Integration-Active ground and flight testing. During active testing, the kilowatt-class illuminator lasers will be integrated and tested to demonstrate target acquisition, fine tracking, pointing and atmospheric compensation. Upon completion of active testing, the YAL-1 will return to Edwards Air Force Base for installation of the High Energy Laser, which will be removed from the System Integration Laboratory. This will be followed by extensive weapon systems testing on the aircraft, both ground and flight.

“This is a major technological achievement for the Airborne Laser program,” said Pat Shanahan, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. “Proving the capability of this laser to operate at lethal levels of power and duration moves the system a major step closer to becoming a vital component of the nation’s boost phase defense against a ballistic missile threat. We have made continued steady progress on this program breaking new technological ground every day, with each test increment leading to the lethal shoot down milestone.”

Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD) is the third partner in the ABL project and provides the beam control-fire control segment, which contains state-of-the-art optics for control of the solid-state illuminators for tracking and atmospheric compensation as well as the High Energy Laser. Lockheed also provides ABL’s flight turret assembly.

-Hassaun Jones-Bey

More in Home