Boeing noses closer to airborne laser

After this month’s successful test launch, Boeing says it is one step closer to developing an airborne laser (ABL) that would find, follow and knock out enemy missiles after they’ve been launched.

During the test, the ABL, a modified Boeing 747-400F, took off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, and used its infrared sensors to find simulated missile exhaust generated by an instrumented target board located on a USAF test aircraft. The ABL aircraft then pointed and fired its track illuminator laser (TILL) at the target to gather target-tracking data — a key step in a missile engagement.

The firing confirms that ABL can find an airborne target, precisely fix the track illuminator laser on to it and use the laser firing results to track it.

Airborne Laser window exposed in flight

In future tests, ABL will fire its other solid-state laser, the beacon illuminator laser, in conjunction with the TILL. This will demonstrate the ability to compensate for the atmospheric turbulence that the missile-killing, high-energy chemical laser would encounter in its path to the target.

The aircraft will then complete an engagement sequence by firing both illuminator lasers and using a surrogate high-energy laser to simulate a target shoot-down.

When these tests have been completed, an actual high-energy laser will be installed in the aircraft to prepare for the first intercept test against an in-flight ballistic missile in 2009.