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Pentagon mothballs USAF’s airborne laser missile defence weapon

2 March 2012

The Pentagon has put into long-term storage a laser-equipped missile defence aircraft at an Arizona Air Force base, US, due to lack of funding from the federal government to keep the jet flying.

The airborne laser programme involved a Boeing 747 jumbo jet equipped with an advanced tracking system and a high-energy chemical laser on its nose to detect and destroy enemy targets.

The US Missile Defense Agency said that though the aircraft is being mothballed, research into anti-missile lasers will continue.

MDA spokeswoman Debra Christman told the Los Angeles Times: "We didn't have the funding to continue flying the aircraft."

The futuristic airborne missile defence system programme achieved its goals and reached the end of the contract after more than 15 years of development with over $5bn in federal funding.

During trials in February 2010, the airborne laser fired a super-heated, basketball-size laser beam out of a rotating nose turret at a missile travelling at a speed of 4,000mph.

The programme, which never got beyond the testing stage, faced a series of technical problems which delayed a follow-up missile test for months but soon after that, a software glitch caused the laser to miss the desired mark on the target missile after the follow-up test occurred.

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, US also supported the project.

Airborne Laser Test Bed Combined Test Force director Lieutenant colonel Jeff Warmka told the paper that the programme conclusion represents the end of an historic era in airborne directed energy research, not only for Edwards Air Force Base but for the Department of Defense at large.