Airborne chemical laser is here

Published 30 October 2006

This is more than twenty years after Ronald Reagan’s March 1983 Star War speech, but his vision of building an effective defense against ballistic missiles is a step — more accurately, a small baby step — closer; Boeing and partners demonstrates an airborne chemical laser, an important ingredient in any such defense

The airborne chemical laser has arrived. Two days ago, Boeing (NYSE: BA), its industry teammates, and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, rolled out the Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft from a hangar at the company’s Integrated Defense Systems facility in Wichita, Kansas. This is a major milestone for the effort to harness laser technology for the purpose of shooting down enemy missiles. We note the following:

* The ABL team in Wichita fully integrated the Lockheed Martin-designed beam control/fire control system inside the ABL aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-400F. Two solid-state illuminator lasers, which are part of the beam control device, and a surrogate high-energy laser were installed and fired repeatedly at a simulated ballistic missile target. The track illuminator laser is designed to track a target, while the beacon illuminator laser is intended to measure atmospheric turbulence which the high-energy chemical laser would encounter in its path to the target. During the ground tests, results from the illuminator firings were fed back to ABL, allowing the surrogate high-energy laser to shoot down a simulated target. The program achieved most of the objectives of the ground tests and expects to satisfy the remaining ones in the coming months

* In Wichita, the team, including a Boeing-Northrop Grumman contingent on temporary assignment from Edwards Air Force Base in California, added floor reinforcements and chemical-fuel tanks to the back of the aircraft to prepare the jet for installation of the high-energy laser in 2007

* The team, led by ABL partner Northrop Grumman, completed a significant milestone for the high-energy laser. In California, Northrop Grumman finished ground-testing the optics which will shape the high-energy laser beam and direct it from the laser to the beam control/fire control system. The optics underwent inspection and refurbishment after the laser achieved lethal power and run-times in a ground laboratory in December 2005

The team is preparing for another major activity later this year. The program will begin firing the illuminators in flight at an instrumented target board located on a missile-shaped image painted on a test aircraft. This activity will verify ABL’s active tracking and atmospheric compensation capabilities.

-read more in this news release