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January 10, 2011

Airborne Laser to Attempt Another Missile Shoot-Down

Topics: National News, Our Nation's Warriors in the war on terror, Political News and commentaries


From the WSJ ... the U.S. military achieved is out to repeat what some described as a game-changing first - shooting down a ballistic missile in flight with a laser.

[...] Missile Defense Agency spokesman Richard Lehner said that the Airborne Laser Test Bed, a modified jumbo jet equipped with a powerful chemical laser, will attempt to knock down a target missile over 100 miles away in a test off the California coast.

If the experiment is a success, it is likely to revive congressional interest in funding the flying laser. In 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates downgraded the program to a research and development effort, canceling plans to procure a second laser-equipped jet. But the Airborne Laser has long enjoyed support in Congress, particularly in Kansas, where the experimental plane was modified, and in New Mexico, home to the Air Force's laser research directorate.

The test of the Airborne Laser represents the latest effort by the Pentagon to showcase the power of lasers. Last year, the Navy shot down four drones off San Nicolas Island, Calif., using a laser cannon that combined the beams of six industrial-use lasers. And in 2009, the Air Force downed several unmanned aircraft with laser weapons in a series of tests at China Lake, Calif.

But tonight's anticipated test is supposed to demonstrate something more ambitious: The laser's ability to zap a missile in the vulnerable "boost phase" (the first few minutes after launch) at longer distance.

Read it all ...

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February 11 2010. A modified Boeing 747-400F with more than 7 tons of optics up front and a megawatt-class laser in back destroyed a liquid-fueled ballistic missile target while both were in flight. The Missile Defense Agency's Airborne Laser TestBed reportedly carries a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser that's coupled with precise pointing and atmospheric correction equipment. And it has now proven capable of knocking a ballistic missile out of the sky.

The system is the result of a cooperative effort led by Boeing, in partnership with Northrop Grumman (which supplies the laser) and Lockheed Martin (which is developing the fire control system). The aim is to deter enemy missile attacks by disabling the attacking missiles while they are in the boost phase. That means hitting a target capable of 4,000 miles per hour with a beam of light traveling somewhere close to 670 million miles per hour.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency hopes similar devices will one day be able to track and attack multiple targets, at a range of hundreds of kilometers, at at a lower cost than current technologies.

But For now, the price of the program is a problem. Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled what had been an order for a second airborne laser system. The original, will continue to participate in experiments.

Posted by Richard at January 10, 2011 2:25 PM

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