Laser destroys in-flight missile

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Boeing, industry teammates and the US Missile Defense Agency have demonstrated the potential of directed-energy weapons by destroying a ballistic missile with the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB).

This experiment marks the first time a laser weapon has engaged and destroyed an in-flight ballistic missile and the first time that any system has accomplished it in the missile’s boost phase of flight.

According to Boeing, ALTB has the highest-energy laser ever fired from an aircraft and is the most powerful mobile laser-device in the world.

During the experiment, the aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-400F, took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California and focused its nose-mounted high-energy laser at the missile target during its boost phase as the aircraft flew over the Western Sea Range off the coast of California.

‘We’ve been saying for some time that the Airborne Laser Testbed would be a pathfinder for directed energy and would expand options for policymakers and warfighters,’ said Michael Rinn, Boeing vice-president and ALTB programme director.

‘ALTB technology and future directed-energy platforms will transform how the US defends itself and its allies.’

Boeing is the prime contractor for the Airborne Laser Testbed, which is designed to intercept all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight.

Northrop Grumman designed and built ALTB’s high-energy laser, and Lockheed Martin developed the beam-control/fire-control system.

Boeing provided the aircraft, the battle-management system and overall systems integration and testing.


Operates autonomously, above the clouds, outside the range of threat weapons but sufficiently close to enemy territory

Engages early, destroying ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight over the launch area

Cues and tracks targets, communicating with other joint-theatre assets for layered defence systems


Unique Technology

Nose-mounted turret with 1.5m telescope that focuses beams on the missile and collects return images and signals

Beam control system to precisely acquire and track targets

Source: Boeing