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.
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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