Leading this field
is defense contractor Boeing, whose directed-energy chemical laser is
causing quite a stir in the defense circles. Dubbed the
"Advanced Tactical Laser" (ATL), the new weapon is already
being field tested aboard modified Hercules C-130H test aircraft.
Boeing is also testing another variant dubbed the "Laser
Avenger" aboard its Humvees, designed to shoot down UAVs.
laser aboard the gunship weighs approximately 6 tons, with the entire
weapons system weighing 20 tons. Limited shots may initially
limit the device's capabilities, somewhat. It may be only able
to muster 6 shots, according to current estimates. Eventually,
Boeing is aiming for a 100 to 300 kW laser with up to 100 shots.
The C-130H, though, likely features a lower kW design.
laser is mounted to a ball turret on the aircraft's belly. It
requires toxic chemicals to refuel, a tricky process. The beam
generated is approximately 10 cm in diameter and cuts like a
In the most
recent round of testing the ATL managed to score
a hit on a moving vehicle, burning a hole through its fender.
In an earlier test in September, Boeing pronounced that it hit a
stationary ground vehicle with the laser and had "defeated"
it. Videos of this test can be seen
here. With the subsequent remote-controlled, moving vehicle
test, Boeing offered for a more conservative statement, saying a hit
was scored and the vehicle was "damaged". Boeing
would not reveal specifics on the vehicle or its armor, but it was
The testing was carried out at the White
Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, with the aircraft flying out of
Kirtland Air Force Base, located near Albuquerque.
Fitzmire, VP of the Boeing Missile Defense Systems' Directed Energy
Systems unit, was cautiously optimistic about the test, stating, "In
this test, a directed energy weapon successfully demonstrated direct
attack on a moving target. ATL has now precisely targeted and
engaged both stationary and moving targets, demonstrating the
transformational versatility of this speed-of-light, ultra-precision
engagement capability that will dramatically reduce collateral
The greatest promise of the aircraft is its
ability to make stealthy strikes. It will be hard for enemies
to prove that the U.S. gunship is to blame, as the results are less
obtrusive than a bomb or missile. The gunship can fire on
targets from up to 9 miles away.
Boeing is also developing a
raygun, dubbed the "Airborne Laser" that's mounted in a
747 jet. Boeing hopes to field the beefier nose-mounted design
to shoot down ballistic missiles in case of a nuclear threat.
Competitor Northrop Grumman has also fielded
a 100 kW laser.