Boeing's advanced tactical laser "defeats" ground target in flight test

Sept. 2, 2009
The Boeing Company (Albuquerque, NM) and the U.S. Air Force on Aug. 30 "defeated" a ground target from the air with the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) aircraft, demonstrating ATL's first air-to-ground, high-power laser engagement of a tactically representative target.

The Boeing Company (Albuquerque, NM) and the U.S. Air Force on Aug. 30 "defeated" a ground target from the air with the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) aircraft, demonstrating ATL's first air-to-ground, high-power laser engagement of a tactically representative target. (Note: the ATL is different from the megawatt-class Airborne Laser, which is a different project led by Boeing and the U.S Missile Defense Agency and which is mounted in a modified Boeing 747 aircraft.)

During the test, the C-130H aircraft took off from Kirtland Air Force Base (also in Albuquerque) and fired its high-power chemical oxygen-iodine laser (COIL) laser through its beam-control system while flying over White Sands Missile Range (the actual optical output of the ATL is classified). The beam-control system acquired the ground target--an unoccupied stationary vehicle--and guided the laser beam to the target, as directed by ATL's battle-management system. The laser beam's energy "defeated" the vehicle (which presumably means damaging the vehicle beyond repair), according to Boeing.

"This milestone demonstrates that directed-energy weapon systems will transform the battlespace and save lives by giving warfighters a speed-of-light, ultraprecision engagement capability that will dramatically reduce collateral damage," said Greg Hyslop, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems.

The test occurred less than three months after a June 13 test in which ATL successfully fired its laser from the air for the first time, hitting a target board on the ground. The ATL team plans additional tests to further demonstrate the system's military utility. These demonstrations support the development of systems that will conduct missions on the battlefield and in urban operations.

"The bottom line is that ATL works, and works very well," said Gary Fitzmire, vice president and program director of Boeing Missile Defense Systems' Directed Energy Systems unit. "ATL's components--the high-energy chemical laser, beam-control system, and battle manager--are performing as one integrated weapon system, delivering effective laser-beam energy to ground targets."

The ATL industry team also includes L-3 Communications/Brashear, which built the laser turret; HYTEC Inc., which made a variety of the weapon system's structural elements; and J.B. Henderson, which provides mechanical integration support.

About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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