VIDEO: USAF tests Airbourne Laser


Senior Member
Dec 17, 2009
Country flag

Airborne Laser shoots down 1st ballistic target

By Stephen Trimble

The Boeing Airborne Laser Testbed successfully shot down a Scud missile-like target at 2044 PST off the California coast, a landmark achievement in the $6 billion programme's 16-year history.

The ALTB, a 747-400 freighter modified with a 1MW-class chemical laser and a 1.5m telescope mounted on the nose, used onboard sensors to acquire the short-range ballistic target shortly after launch from an offshore, mobile platform, the Missile Defense Agency says in a press release.

The ALTB then fired a low-energy laser to measure atmospheric disturbances and make corrections. Finally, the ALTB fired the high-energy laser, which destroyed the ballistic missile within two minutes of target launch.

The test marked the first attempt by the ALTB to shoot-down a ballistic missile powered by liquid fuel.

Airbourne Laser shoot down
Photo by Missile Defense Agency
An infrared image shows the Airborne Laser Test Bed destroying a ballistic target using a high energy laser.

The MDA has not revealed the speed of the target missile or its range from the ALTB.

Boeing released a press release describing the event as a "breakthrough with incredible potential".

"We look forward to conducting additional research and development to explore what this unique directed-energy system can do," says Greg Hyslop, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems.

The Department of Defense, however, last year re-classified the Airborne Laser from a development programme to a testbed effort, and withdrew funds to build a second flight test aircraft based on the 747-8.

In 2009, MDA and Boeing officials said they planned to continue a series of intercept tests through the end of 2010 in an effort to reduce risk and expand the envelope of the ALTB's operations.

The programme has been criticized over its 16-year history as being an expensive and technically problematic solution to the task of intercepting ballistic missiles during the boost phase.

The MDA originally planned to destroy the first ballistic target in 2005, but schedule delays postponed the event for nearly five years.

Boeing is the lead contractor for ABL, but Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin also provide major systems. The ABL is comprised of a chemical oxygen iodine laser, or COIL, as the weapon. The telescope is mounted in a bulbous nose assembly weighing 5,443kg (12,000lb).
Last edited by a moderator:


Senior Member
Nov 25, 2009
Airborne Laser faces uncertain future despite historic intercept test

The Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) faces an uncertain future as both a research project and an operational system even after its 1MW-class chemical laser successfully - and historically - destroyed a ballistic missile off the California coast on 11 February.

The long-awaited intercept test proved that the modified Boeing 747-400F's key technology - a chemical oxygen iodine laser (Coil) invented by US Air Force researchers in 1977 - is a lethal weapon against ballistic missiles.

A week before the ballistic intercept, the ALTB shot down a Terrier Black Brant, a two-stage sounding rocket that presents faster and smaller target to the Lockheed Martin-supplied beam and fire control system.

Moving the ALTB out of the research environment, however, remains an open question. Despite passing a historic milestone for a directed energy weapons system, the intercept was completed in a sterile test environment.

Moreover, the Missile Defense Agency classified the range of the test and obscured the length of time required to defeat the target, making it unclear how well the Coil technology really performed.

Mike Rinn, Boeing vice-president and general manager for missile defence programmes, believes the lethal demonstration opens the door for high energy lasers to become operational weapons.

"As we show things like we did last night, decisions can be made about whether this platform or some future platform or some incarnation of the current technology can be an operational system," Rinn says.

But Rinn's top customer - Secretary of Defense Robert Gates - remains opposed to making the $6 billion programme operational. In 2009 Gates cancelled the second Airborne Laser aircraft and downgraded the programme from operational prototype to testbed status.

The programme now remains in limbo, awaiting the results of future budget decisions. The Department of Defense has requested slightly less than $100 million for the ALTB in fiscal year 2011, which Rinn says is insufficient to preserve the industrial base for such high-energy lasers.

But the programme's future will be decided in the next round of budget planning. The MDA is working on a study computing the lifecycle acquisition cost of an operational system, which requires buying up to seven aircraft.

Meanwhile, the office of DoD's director for research and engineering is analysing options for missile defences in the boost and ascent phase, Rinn says. That ALTB is a candidate in the director's ongoing analysis, which will inform the Pentagon's FY2012 budget request, he says.

The ALTB is a uniquely complex weapon system, including four different lasing systems. A mixture of chlorine, oxygen and iodine are used to produce photos, which are amplified to create the megawatt-class laser.

The system aims the laser using a deformable mirror, with the imperfections in the atmosphere acting as a lens to restore the quality of the beam before it hits the target.

Global Defence