ABL high-power laser weapon moves toward missile shoot-down demonstration

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.—Missile defense experts fired the high-power laser aboard the Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft in flight for the first time in August, to move the airborne military laser closer to an actual missile shoot-down demonstration.

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EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.—Missile defense experts fired the high-power laser aboard the Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft in flight for the first time in August, 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.

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The U.S. Air Force Airborne Laser system, shown above, has taken another step toward an actual missile shoot-down test.
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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, marking 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.

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