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Boeing has successfully fired the laser aboard the ABL aircraft through the onboard laser guidance system

The key to stopping missile attacks is to be able to target and destroy the missiles in the boost phase of their flight before they can reach the target and cause untold damage. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has been testing the Airborne Laser (ABL) system for several years now.

Boeing announced recently that it had successfully completed the first ground firing of the ABL high-energy laser through the beam control/fire control system. The test was conducted at Edwards Air Force Base and the beam traveled through the fire control system and exited at the nose mounted turret of the aircraft.

Boeing announced in September that it had completed the first test firing of the laser, but the beam was captured by an onboard calorimeter rather than exiting the aircraft. The ground test last week targeted and directed the laser beam from the aircraft to a simulated missile.

Scott Fancher, VP and general manager of Boeing missile Defense Systems said in a statement, "This test is significant because it demonstrated that the Airborne Laser missile defense program has successfully integrated the entire weapon system aboard the ABL aircraft. With the achievement of the first firing of the laser aboard the aircraft in September, the team has now completed the two major milestones it hoped to accomplish in 2008, keeping ABL on track to conduct the missile shootdown demonstration planned for next year."

The next step for the testing program according to Michael Rinn, Boeing VP and ABL program director is an additional series of longer duration laser firings through the beam control/fire system. Rinn said in a statement, "Once we complete those tests, we will begin demonstrating the entire weapon system in flight. The team is meeting its commitment to deliver this transformational directed-energy weapon system in the near term."

The first test of the high-power laser for the ABL system was conducted in 2005 at the System Integration Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base. The Boeing ABL system was declared ready for flight tests in 2006. The ABL is installed aboard a modified Boeing 747-400F. The ground tests conducted at the time verified the optical alignment of the components that guide the laser to a target among other things. The first in flight test for the ABL was originally slated for 2008, that test is now expected to happen in 2009.

Boeing is also working on a very similar project called the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL). The ATL is designed to be used offensively, whereas the ABL is for defensively destroying missiles. Boeing claims that the ATL is capable of supernatural accuracy and can destroy weapons very near bystanders without causing them harm.

The ATL has been fired from aboard the modified C130 gunship it is housed in, but the laser beam was captured by an onboard calorimeter. The ground firing was conducted in May 2008 with further testing to be conducted. The weapon system is claimed to be able to engage and destroy a massive amount of enemy hardware in convoy in only a 26-second engagement.

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So how many do we need?
By Misty Dingos on 12/2/2008 12:03:23 PM , Rating: 5
Well two for North Korea.
Probably 6 for the Middle East (2 for Iran and 2 for Israel 1 for Syria and a spare)
Two more for South America (Brazil, Venezuela)
At least two for India and Pakistan. So that is like twelve (12). Which is the bare minimum for an AF squadron. Add in the inevitable down time and boost the number to eighteen (18). And just because I don’t trust them add in two more for France.

We need a minimum of 20 of these aircraft.

RE: So how many do we need?
By TerranMagistrate on 12/2/2008 12:29:17 PM , Rating: 2
Dozens more than that, in my opinion, in order to have a chance at withstanding a massive nuclear barrage from the Russians which of course is as real a possibility today as it was in any day of the Cold War.

And speaking of the Cold War, once these ABL weapons systems become fully operational, they should be flown around the clock just like the B-52s and B-47s did in the 1950s before the advent of ICBMs.

And selling a decent number to the IAF would be ideal as well considering the growing threat that Iran is becoming.

RE: So how many do we need?
By FITCamaro on 12/2/2008 1:30:40 PM , Rating: 3
Nah just build big laser cannon emplacements on the northern border and western coastline. Personally I'd want them all the way around the country.

RE: So how many do we need?
By TerranMagistrate on 12/2/2008 2:36:40 PM , Rating: 3
Considering the fact that this mounted laser is meant to destroy ICBMs during the early stages of flight when the target is still in enemy airspace by targeting the fuel tanks of the missile, that idea wouldn't work at all.

In any case, this combined with the Aegis defensive system will provide a substantial shield for the U.S. and allies against a growing nuclear threat.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Master Kenobi on 12/2/2008 2:43:03 PM , Rating: 3
I think the next step is to start outfiting our current Aegis warships with the Kinetic Hit to Kill interceptors we are basing in Alaska and Poland.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Ringold on 12/2/2008 2:46:00 PM , Rating: 3
There is no defense against Russia's nuclear stockpile. They'd just find a way to thwart it even if we made one. MAD has kept us both at peace, has it not? (Never mind the proxy wars!) We really want to destabilize an order of things that has worked for half a century?

RE: So how many do we need?
By Amiga500 on 12/3/2008 3:48:25 AM , Rating: 4
Absolutely right.

There are many more ways to deliver a bomb than on the nose of a missile.

Those that rated you down are just ignorant of the realities of the situation.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Master Kenobi on 12/3/2008 7:16:43 AM , Rating: 3
So what your trying to say here is that MAD is an endgame and nothing can be done about it. I disagree. I think MAD was the endgame back during the cold war, but in 50 years I would prefer to see that done away with.

By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 12/3/2008 7:50:03 AM , Rating: 3
ICBM's are typically MIRV's, so waiting until deployment and re-entry to shoot down many more descending warheads than ascending missiles is not efficient or as safe.

The perimeter laser cannons might be a good last defense, but give me more of these low level star wars weapons any day. Reagan lives on!

RE: So how many do we need?
By Amiga500 on 12/3/2008 3:46:47 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, there are concepts based around doing something like that.

But, the idea is only to use a few stations, then have airships with massive mirrors act as both focussing arrays and repeater stations. In this way, the beams from several cannons can be combined to hit one target, and a single ground based cannon can cover a much larger field.

There are also benefits with regards atmospheric attenuation of the beams.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Choppedliver on 12/2/2008 6:53:21 PM , Rating: 2
The B-52s were flying 24x7 missions long after the advent of ICBMS.

The "Nuclear Triad" was part of the peace through deterence known as "MAD" or Mutually Assured Destruction and lasted till the end of the cold war, not just till after ICBMS were created. The nuclear Triad was

a) ICBM's
b) Bombers with nukes on them ( ALCM's, or air launched cruise missiles )
c) Sub launched nukes

These three "legs" make up the triad, and assured our enemies that no matter how much crap you throw at us, we will utterly decimate, annihilate, and destroy any country foolish enough to attack us with weapons of mass destruction.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Amiga500 on 12/3/2008 3:44:01 AM , Rating: 1
And selling a decent number to the IAF would be ideal as well considering the growing threat that Iran is becoming.

Why not just sell it directly to China while your at it?

Anyhoo - its obvious to one and all that this approach offers far greater potential than the lame duck ABMs being developed and sited in Poland and Alaska (at no little cost in political friction). Surely the USA would be better off scrapping the ABMs (which would be a good cost saver with regards the current US budget deflict and get political capital withcertain other countries **cough** Russia **cough**) and concentrating just on the lasers.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Master Kenobi on 12/3/2008 7:26:25 AM , Rating: 2
Used in different phases of ICBM interception.

ABL is used during the initial boost phase as the rocket is making its way into orbit. Once in orbit, the ABL is useless and we switch to using an ABM Interceptor based in Poland or Alaska.

Frankly you need both, and preferably something sitting in orbit to make this thing work well.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Sanity on 12/2/2008 1:03:25 PM , Rating: 1
Definately many more for the Russian missels.

These should also be deployed on all aircraft carriers, and whatever other navel vessels have the room and power to opperate them. Talk about on board defense.

Were these ruled out of being deployed in space? Too expensive?

RE: So how many do we need?
By Master Kenobi on 12/2/2008 2:08:39 PM , Rating: 2
Theres a treaty on the books for no militarization of space, but with current outlooks that might change. These can be put into space without too much additional effort, Ion Cannons here we come!

RE: So how many do we need?
By foolsgambit11 on 12/2/2008 2:51:43 PM , Rating: 3
It's not that there's absolutely no militarization of space. Article IV of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies controls military action in space:
States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.

The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration of the moon and other celestial bodies shall also not be prohibited.
You can see, governments can't place nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction in space. That doesn't prohibit defensive, non-WMD weapons in orbit. The second paragraph solely limits activities which can take place on the surface of celestial bodies, and places no limits on the use of open space. So that doesn't prohibit laser satellites, either.

There could also be an argument made that the treaty would not just allow, but would in fact promote a defensive missile shield. Article III states,
States Parties to the Treaty shall carry on activities in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, in accordance with international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international co-operation and understanding.
The 'in the interest of maintaining international peace' part could be a strong justification for stationing defensive anti-missile weapons in space. The key would be ensuring that the defensive capability isn't used to allow offensive actions taken with impunity. For instance, if the U.S. has a missile shield, they could launch their own missiles on foreign targets with no fear of reciprocity. In that case, the defensive shield would not be 'in the interest of maintaining international peace'. But if it were used by the U.S. to, for instance, keep India and Pakistan from launching nuclear missiles at each other (in addition to keeping the U.S. secure from attack), then it would certainly be a use promoted by the Space Treaty.

So there.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Icewind31 on 12/2/2008 11:49:15 PM , Rating: 2
Anyone else noticing this is Tom Clancy EndWar coming to life?... oil shortages... laser defense systems... Canada watch out... the Russians are going to get you!

RE: So how many do we need?
By Smilin on 12/2/2008 5:21:31 PM , Rating: 2
We need none for North Korea.

There are already mid-course phase kinetic energy interceptors. The US is building these as fast as they can dig the holes for the silos.

RE: So how many do we need?
By arrowspark on 12/3/2008 9:47:01 AM , Rating: 2
I like how you had assigned 1 for India and Pakistan, and 2 for France but assigned absolutely 0 for Russia.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Misty Dingos on 12/3/2008 3:21:51 PM , Rating: 2
It isn't that I don't consider Russia or China threats but they are not considered rogue states. Also what a lot of people are missing about the ABL is that it is a relatively short range weapon. Getting close enough to launch sites in Russia or China would be difficult at best and likely impossible for an unarmed B-747.

The other issue is that the laser system is designed to destroy short to medium range ballistic missiles. They actually fly slower than ICBMs. ICBMs can be targeted but the ABL would have to be closer to the launch site and track the ICBM longer. Trying to use the ABL to protect us from Russia and China just isn't feasible in its current form.

I believe the current guess work is that the ABL has about 25 shots in it before it has to call it a day and rearm the weapon system. In an exchange with either Russia or China the number of weapons exchanged would easily dwarf the capabilities of our nascent missile defense capability.

RE: So how many do we need?
By Carmel on 12/4/2008 12:12:58 AM , Rating: 2
Why did you add Brazil on that list? I agree with Venezuela, but we (brazilians) are not a threat to United States.

mmm popcorn.....
By technoarch on 12/2/2008 11:50:10 AM , Rating: 5
We can now blow up homes with POPCORN!!!!!

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By lukasbradley on 12/2/2008 12:20:22 PM , Rating: 4
This makes me think of the immortal words of Socrates who said, "I drank what?"

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By HVAC on 12/2/2008 12:44:52 PM , Rating: 3
"It's a moral imperative!"

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By Avitar on 12/2/2008 2:02:12 PM , Rating: 2
And if the geniuses had been responsible, we could have bagged Saddam and skipped the Iraq war.

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By FITCamaro on 12/2/2008 8:38:43 PM , Rating: 2
Could have done that if the American people hadn't wussed out the first time and we'd finished the job.

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By Jedi2155 on 12/2/2008 11:27:18 PM , Rating: 3
I thought it was Bush Senior's own decision to leave Iraq....not necessary public opinion.

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By Master Kenobi on 12/3/2008 7:18:05 AM , Rating: 3
Congressional decision actually. They would not authorize an invasion and takeover of Iraq.

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By gstrickler on 12/2/2008 1:21:59 PM , Rating: 2
Sir, let me take this moment to compliment you on your fashion sense, particularly your slippers.

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By bhieb on 12/2/2008 1:45:45 PM , Rating: 2
Can you drive a 10 penny nail through a 2x4 with your ...

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By threepac3 on 12/2/2008 2:10:31 PM , Rating: 2
You still run? Only when chased.

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By foolsgambit11 on 12/2/2008 2:28:55 PM , Rating: 2
"Rue the day? Who says that?"

RE: mmm popcorn.....
By bighairycamel on 12/2/2008 5:04:08 PM , Rating: 3
Stewie Griffin

"...well go on! Start rueing!"

By Gzus666 on 12/2/08, Rating: 0
RE: So...
By Einy0 on 12/2/2008 11:50:59 AM , Rating: 2
Dr. Evil quotes aside... Yes this is insane. Gauss rifle anyone???

RE: So...
By Gzus666 on 12/2/2008 12:00:26 PM , Rating: 3
I don't know why, but I want a penguin with a backpack with dual lasers over the shoulders. Mainly so I could put up a sign that says Danger: Attack Penguin and have the delightful picture of it.

Oh and gauss rifle would use electromagnetic force to propel a projectile, not a laser. Now a laser rifle, oh yea.

RE: So...
By foolsgambit11 on 12/2/2008 2:28:18 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, if they used a Linux build for these systems' control computers, I would totally love to see that delightful picture on the box.

RE: So...
By Avitar on 12/2/2008 2:21:34 PM , Rating: 2
Would you settle for a 120mm rail gun? General Dynamics built those for the Abrams tank upgrade M1A3 but the civil servents at DOD, not unreasonably, are requiring the Army find some that survives the encoutering the current M1A2 tank before they buy the upgrades.

RE: So...
By FITCamaro on 12/2/2008 12:16:51 PM , Rating: 3

We're one step closer to building our own Death Star....Sphere o Fear.....Deathticle. Yeah. Deathticle.

Of course the ability to destroy a planet pales in comparison to the power of ignorance.

RE: So...
By Master Kenobi on 12/2/2008 2:03:55 PM , Rating: 2
Slight problem. You can't have the beams intersect and change direction like the Deathstar did. Otherwise, bring on the lasers!

RE: So...
By foolsgambit11 on 12/2/2008 2:30:51 PM , Rating: 5
Oh, sure, maybe you can't.

RE: So...
By Sanity on 12/2/2008 2:35:05 PM , Rating: 2
Hey, if we can built a space station the size of a Death Star, I'm sure we can come up with some gravatational light-bending doohicky.

RE: So...
By JonnyDough on 12/2/2008 10:26:48 PM , Rating: 2
In terms of relative difficulty:

Bending light > building giant space station.

That's only because you can't actually "bend" light. You can maybe affect it's trajectory though.

RE: So...
By ViroMan on 12/2/2008 10:44:53 PM , Rating: 1
How do you know there wasn't a metal alloy glass sphere floating out in front of the death star to collect and focus the beam? Not like your going to see a a glass ball in space.

hell... if you can make a land speeder float above the ground like that, im sure you know a bit about gravity and how to bend/use it, knowing this, you can bend the beams.

RE: So...
By Visual on 12/3/2008 6:59:30 AM , Rating: 2
Don't cross the beams!

RE: So...
By Master Kenobi on 12/3/2008 7:29:46 AM , Rating: 2
Shit! I hate it when I get my schwartz crossed!

By austinag on 12/2/2008 12:30:22 PM , Rating: 3
I predict a movie with one of theses planes in it within 2 years.

By Suntan on 12/2/2008 12:50:47 PM , Rating: 2
yeah, when is the transformers sequel coming out?


By Master Kenobi on 12/2/2008 2:09:27 PM , Rating: 2
June/July 2009.

By JonnyDough on 12/2/2008 10:23:31 PM , Rating: 3
Get a new name, or at least quit posting yours that way.


By SilentRunning on 12/2/2008 11:32:18 PM , Rating: 2
Did you miss all the references to the 1985 movie Real Genius ?

Top Gun 2
By darkpuppet on 12/2/2008 12:47:23 PM , Rating: 3
In a recently leaked draft of the Top Gun 2 script, Maverick lasers his initials in Ice Man's ass from 20 nautical miles and posts the video on youtube.

RE: Top Gun 2
By FITCamaro on 12/2/2008 1:32:05 PM , Rating: 1
Please tell me they're not seriously making Top Gun 2.....

RE: Top Gun 2
By Sanity on 12/2/2008 1:44:40 PM , Rating: 3
Yup. Tom Cruise included.

RE: Top Gun 2
By Ringold on 12/2/2008 2:49:30 PM , Rating: 4
Too close for missiles, I'm switching to lasers!

The most amazing part
By Smilin on 12/2/2008 12:06:59 PM , Rating: 4
The part that impresses me most is the focus on the main beam. They fire test lasers just before the main beam to calculate the distortion that will be caused by the atmosphere. They then deliberately fire the main laser out of focus in such a way that it come into focus by the time it reaches the target.


RE: The most amazing part
By Jedi2155 on 12/2/2008 4:47:24 PM , Rating: 2
Adaptive optics for the win....commonly used in optical telescopes on Earth to account for atmospheric distortion for the win!

Funny thing was it was developed concurrently and separately in both the civilian and military research circles.

By fcx56 on 12/2/2008 1:14:48 PM , Rating: 2
What powers the laser? A chemical fuel? I wonder for what duration they will be able to discharge the device before returning to refuel

RE: Duration?
By Master Kenobi on 12/2/2008 2:11:07 PM , Rating: 2
It's a Chemical Laser.

The Smaller ATL on the C-130 Gunship is supposed to get roughly 20-25 shots before it needs to return to rearm. Based on that and the fact that its scaled down compared to the largeR ABL, I would say 10-15 shots before a refueling would be necessary.

Mirrored Missiles?
By faster on 12/2/2008 11:46:22 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not a rocket scientist, but wouldn't you just coat all your missiles in teflon/mirror/stealth/heat resistant material to make them impervious to this system?

RE: Mirrored Missiles?
By Master Kenobi on 12/3/2008 7:22:50 AM , Rating: 2
Unless you knew the exact wavelength used by the laser, you can't simply throw a mirror on it and reflect the beam. This also assumes the laser can't have variable wavelengths (which it can). Stealth Material wouldn't help since the massive rocket booster is what they are locking on to originally (This laser is used during the boost phase). Heat resistant materials could work in theory, but there are a lot of ways it could still fail against this laser.

laser + submarine
By Murloc on 12/3/2008 11:29:17 AM , Rating: 2
they can launch nukes from missiles, just mount this laser and shape the submarine differently and you get a frigging lazer shark!!!!

AB Laser
By FPP on 12/3/2008 6:10:46 PM , Rating: 2
It's a tough mission. The laser has to stay on the target up to 12(?) seconds (I read this once) and it has to bullseye EVERY time. A miss by 1/1000 of an inch is a total miss. On a plane with sensors and stealth, it could pull a hard turn and pop out of the beam, which would have to re-aquire to fire again. A stealth aircraft would even be tougher, and freq. sensing / heat-resistant skins could be developed for armor. This makes it only useful for targets high up and with predictable flight paths.

We're getting to the point where space-based interceptors are required i.e. long loiter, little maintenence, dificult to jam, etc. The Laser, while practical, has very limited capabilities i.e. short number of shots, etc.

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