Boeing and the US Air Force keep advancing in their airborne high-energy laser weapon, the modified 747-400F that is designed to shoot down missiles as they fly to their targets. Last week they fired the entire laser system for the first time ever at the Edwards Air Force Base in California.
While the laser has been tested before, this was the first time they actually operated the whole thing as if they were shooting down a real target. This test fired the laser from the back-mounted generator thought the beam control system, exiting the aircraft through the nose-mounted turret and hitting a simulated ballistic missile target.
The next test—to be executed next year—will be firing and shooting down a real airborne ballistic missile.
Boeing Airborne Laser Team Fires High-Energy Laser Through Beam Control System
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Dec. 01, 2008 — The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] , industry teammates and the U.S. Missile Defence Agency last week fired a high-energy laser through the Airborne Laser's (ABL) beam control/fire control system, completing the first ground test of the entire weapon system integrated aboard the aircraft.
During the test at Edwards Air Force Base, the laser beam traveled through the beam control/fire control system before exiting the aircraft through the nose-mounted turret. The beam control/fire control system steered and focused the beam onto a simulated ballistic-missile target.
"This test is significant because it demonstrated that the Airborne Laser missile defence program has successfully integrated the entire weapon system aboard the ABL aircraft," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defence Systems. "With the achievement of the first firing of the laser aboard the aircraft in September, the team has now completed the two major milestones it hoped to accomplish in 2008, keeping ABL on track to conduct the missile shootdown demonstration planned for next year."
Michael Rinn, Boeing vice president and ABL program director, said the next step for the program is a series of longer-duration laser firings through the beam control/fire control system.
"Once we complete those tests, we will begin demonstrating the entire weapon system in flight," Rinn said. "The team is meeting its commitment to deliver this transformational directed-energy weapon system in the near term."
The program has logged many accomplishments over the past several years. In 2005, the high-energy laser demonstrated lethal levels of duration and power in the System Integration Laboratory at Edwards. In 2007, ABL completed numerous flight tests that demonstrated its ability to track an airborne target, measure and compensate for atmospheric conditions, and deliver a surrogate high-energy laser's simulated lethal beam on the target. In September 2008, the team achieved "first light" by firing the high-energy laser into a calorimeter aboard the aircraft.
Boeing is the prime contractor for ABL, which will provide speed-of-light capability to destroy all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight.
The ABL aircraft is a modified Boeing 747-400F whose back half holds the high-energy laser, designed and built by Northrop Grumman. The front section of the aircraft contains the beam control/fire control system, developed by Lockheed Martin, and the battle management system, provided by Boeing.