EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., 20 Aug. 2009.Missile defense experts fired the high power laser aboard the Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft in flight for the first time Aug. 18, to move the airborne military laser closer to an actual missile shoot-down demonstration.
The laser weapon test, which was a step toward developing an ABL high energy laser for ballistic missile defense, involved the Boeing Co. (BA) industry teammates and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. During the test, the ABL modified Boeing 747-400F aircraft fired its military laser weapons system while flying over the California high desert into an onboard calorimeter, which captured the beam and measured its power.
Before the upcoming missile shoot-down demonstration, ABL's high-energy laser will go through the beam control/fire control system, exiting the aircraft through a nose-mounted turret -- the first time a megawatt laser will have been coupled with precise pointing and atmospheric correction in an airborne environment.
Then the team will fire the high-energy laser against a variety of increasingly challenging targets, culminating with an airborne intercept test against a ballistic missile in the boost phase of flight.
ABL returned to flight in April, following integration and ground testing of the high-energy laser aboard the aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The team on Aug. 10 engaged an instrumented boosting missile with a low-power, atmosphere-compensated laser beam.
ABL's development history includes flight tests in 2007 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 a target. In September 2008, the team fired the high-energy laser aboard the aircraft in ground testing for the first time. The U.S. Department of Defense is seeking to scale back the ABL program to a pure research initiative. Boeing is the prime contractor for ABL.