Officials said the test marked a major achievement for the troubled
Airborne Laser program, about five years behind schedule. In April 2009,
Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended canceling ABL and limiting the
program to research and development.
ABL has comprised the development and installation of a high-powered
chemical oxygen iodine laser aboard a Boeing 747-400F jet. Prime contractor
Boeing has been responsible for integration while Northrop Grumman and
Lockheed Martin provided the laser and fire control systems, respectively.
Over the last 18 months, ABL was revived with a series of successful
tests. ABL was said to have a range of 300 kilometers, sufficient to
intercept ballistic missiles in the first, or boost phase, of
"The revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile
defense, with the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of
light, at a range of hundreds of kilometers and at a low cost per intercept
attempt compared to current technologies," MDA said.
The agency said a short-range ballistic missile was fired from a mobile
launch sea platform. Seconds later, the Airborne Laser test bed detected the
missile in its boost phase.
Officials said the 747 aircraft fired two low-energy lasers to track the
target. The second beam was emitted to ensure the location of the missile to
compensate for atmospheric changes.
"Finally, the ALTB fired its megawatt-class high energy laser, heating
the boosting ballistic missile to critical structural failure," MDA said.
"The entire engagement occurred within two minutes of the target missile
launch, while its rocket motors were still thrusting."
Boeing said ALTB marked the most powerful mobile laser device in the
world. Executives said the airborne laser would require additional research
Over the last month, ABL scored an additional two successes. On Feb. 3,
the system destroyed a solid-fuel missile during its boost phase. In
January, the laser intercepted rather than destroyed a so-called Missile
Alternative Range Target Instrument.
"ALTB technology and future directed-energy platforms will transform how
the United States defends itself and its friends and allies," Boeing vice
president Michael Rinn said.