Northrop-Grumman's ABL Laser Weapon Performs 'First Light'

Released on Friday, November 12, 2004
United States of America
Boeing 747-400F
ABL - Airborne Laser
COIL - Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser
MDA - Missile Defense Agency
The Boeing Airborne Laser (ABL) team fired a laser beam for the first time using the flight laser modules in the ABL System Integration Lab at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The laser fire test has been monitored by the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) demonstrating such a weapon is suitable in an airborne environment to defeat ballistic missiles in the boost phase of the flight. The ABL megawatt-class laser has been built by Northrop-Grumman.

Boeing is the prime contractor and system integrator under MDA contract for the ABL program, which also includes Northrop-Grumman (laser) and Lockheed-Martin (beam control/ fire control). ABL will lead to the YAL-1A aircraft that is a modified Boeing 747-400F freighter equipped with a megawatt-class, high energy, Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL).

YAL-1A will be able to detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles in the boost phase of flight focusing on them a basketball-sized spot of heat from hundreds of miles away. The same platform can also pass information on launch site, target track and predicted impact point to other layers of the global ballistic missile defense system being built by the MDA.

The ground-based fire demonstration of the laser system is also known as the lasing or first light. It was conduced on November 10, 2004, in a special building that houses a modified Boeing 747 freighter fuselage. All ABL program elements are being assembled and tested in that building.

The lasing involves simultaneous operation of six laser system COIL modules, optics and chemical supply system. The six modules working together produced an amount of infrared laser energy, that was within pre-test expectations. The ABL aircraft is currently undergoing a series of flight test to validate the air worthiness and functionality of the battle management and beam control/ fire control (BC/FC) segments already integrated on the aircraft.

The adaptive optics in the BC/FC segment take care of locating the target and continuously compensate for the atmospheric distortion and platform jitter to focus the high energy beam on the missile body, to causing it to structurally fail. The next step for the ABL program will be to integrate the laser weapon into the 747 airframe demonstrating the weapon in flight conditions. Final demonstration will involve shooting down a ballistic missile in flight.


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