The US Air Force’s airborne laser (ABL) currently being built by industry partners, Boeing, Lockheed and Northrop and the US Missile Defence Agency has successfully completed its first in-flight test against an instrumented target missile.
The ABL, when finished, will be able to travel at the speed of light to destroy all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight.
During the test, the airborne laser, attached to a modified Boeing 747-400F aircraft used its infrared sensors to find a target missile launched from California.
The ABL’s battle management system then issued engagement and target location instructions to the beam control / fire control system, aquiring the target and firing two solid-state illuminator lasers to track the target and measure atmospheric conditions.
A surrogate high-energy laser was then fired at the target, simulating a missile intercept. Instrumentation on the target to verify that the high-energy laser had hit the target.
Boeing vice president and ABL programme director Michael Rinn said that pointing and focusing a laser beam on a target that is rocketing skyward at thousands of miles an hour is no easy task, but the Airborne Laser is uniquely able to do the job.
In June 2009, a series of tests were performed on the ABL to engage two un-instrumented boosting Terrier-Lynx target missiles to enable fine-tuning the engagement sequence.
The ABL will undergo flight tests in which the aircraft will fire its high-energy laser, first into an onboard calorimeter, then through its beam control / fire control system.
In the next stage, tests will be conducted for the entire weapon system against in-flight missiles culminating in ABL’s first high-energy laser intercept test against a ballistic missile later in 2009.
,Boeing, the prime contractor and systems integrator for the ABL programme, is providing the modified aircraft and battle management system, Northrop Grumman the high-energy laser and Lockheed Martin the beam control / fire control system.