Missile killer

Boeing has successfully completed low power flight tests for an airborne laser capable of shooting missiles out of the sky.

The tests, conducted with industry team-mates and the US Missile Defence Agency at Edwards Air Force Base, California, performed all the steps required for a ballistic missile intercept.

‘The completion of low-power system flight tests is a key milestone for the Airborne Laser (ABL) team,’ said Pat Shanahan, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems, ‘These tests demonstrate that ABL can fully engage a threat missile with its battle management and beam control/fire control systems. We are now ready to install the high-energy laser in the aircraft to prepare for the first intercept test against an in-flight ballistic missile.’

The tests used a modified Boeing 747-400F, equipped with the Lockheed Martin designed beam control/fire control systems, and simulated a target by carrying an instrumented target board on an US Air Force NC-135E “Big Crow”.

The beam/fire systems acquired the target and used two solid-state illuminator lasers to track the target and measure the atmospheric conditions. A low-power surrogate laser was then fired at the target to simulate an engagement.

The next step will see the installation of the high-energy laser, built by Northrop Grumman, in the test aircraft.

The chemical laser, which has already gone through extensive ground testing, will be taken through further ground and flight tests before the first in-flight test against a ballistic missile, planned for 2009.

ABL is designed to destroy all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight but its speed, precision and power should also allow it to target air-to-air, cruise and surface-to-air missiles.