Integrated testing of airborne ray gun completed

Lockheed Martin has completed testing of the optical benches for the Control/Fire Control system of the Airborne Laser, a specially configured 747 aircraft designed to destroy hostile ballistic weapons.

Lockheed Martin has completed factory testing of the optical benches for the Airborne Laser’s Beam Control/Fire Control (BC/FC) system. The Airborne Laser (ABL) is the first megawatt-class laser weapon system to be carried on a specially configured 747-400F aircraft, designed to autonomously detect, track and destroy hostile ballistic missiles.

The Beam Control/Fire Control system will point, focus and fire the laser to provide sufficient energy to destroy the missile while it is still in the boost phase of flight, before separation of its warheads.

The ABL program is managed by the Missile Defence Agency and is executed by the US Air Force from Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Lockheed Martin said in a statement that it had completed functional and performance testing of the two major elements of the Beam Control/Fire Control system – the Multi-Beam Illuminator (MBIL) and the Beam Transfer Assembly (BTA) – at its Sunnyvale, California facility.

One of the major functions of the BC/FC is to compensate for the operating environment – the vibrations associated with flight and the distortion of light due to Earth’s atmosphere – in order to successfully shoot-down targeted missiles. The challenging task requires a network of lasers, mirrors and precision optics combined with real-time software to manage the process.

The MBIL includes low-energy lasers and their alignment optics used to illuminate and track missiles and point the high-energy laser. The Track Illuminator Laser (TILL) illuminates the body of a missile to determine where to point the high-energy laser. Then, the Beacon Illuminator Laser (BILL) is used to determine atmospheric distortion in order to correct the shape of the high-energy laser to shoot down the missile.

The BTA contains the sensors, steering mirrors and deformable mirrors used to focus the high-energy laser on the target missile. The sensors facilitate automatic target detection and tracking, and detect the atmospheric distortion information provided by the BILL. The steering mirrors enable pointing of the high-energy laser at the target. The deformable mirrors shape the high-energy laser beam to compensate for atmospheric distortions.

Lockheed Martin said it performed extensive testing to verify that the system accurately controls every mirror at operational data rates. The tests validated that the BC/FC system is capable of acquiring a target, initiating tracking of the target, initiating atmospheric compensation, firing the high-energy laser and shutting down the system while maintaining beam quality and accuracy.

Lockheed Martin will deliver the Multi-Beam Illuminator next month to ABL team lead Boeing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, where the Beam Control/Fire Control system and the high-energy laser will be integrated with the aircraft.

Following the MBIL delivery, this spring Lockheed Martin will deliver the Beam Transfer Assembly and the Flight Turret Assembly. The Flight Turret Assembly houses a rotating 1.5-meter telescope used to direct the lasers at targeted missiles.