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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.

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