Washington D.C., November 12, 1996 -- The U. S. Air Force today awarded a team of Boeing, TRW and Lockheed Martin a $1.1 billion contract to develop and flight test a revolutionary laser weapon system to defend against the threat posed by theater ballistic missiles such as the Iraqi Scuds used during Desert Storm.

Under terms of the Program Definition and Risk Reduction (PDRR) contract awarded today, the three companies, working together as Team ABL, will build and test an Airborne Laser (ABL) weapon system mounted aboard a Boeing 747-400F freighter aircraft.

The Airborne Laser Weapon System Program is managed by the Air Force at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. In 1994, Team ABL was one of two teams chosen by the Air Force to conduct separate Airborne Laser conceptual design studies that culminated in today's announcement.

Over the next five years of the PDRR contract, Team ABL will demonstrate that relevant ABL technologies can be integrated onto an airborne platform to shoot down theater ballistic missiles (TBM) at ranges measured in hundreds of kilometers. After a successful PDRR program, the Air Force will proceed with an Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) contract for a fully operational system. The PDRR ABL system will provide the Air Force with a residual operational capability.

"We consider it an honor to be given the responsibility of bringing this technology to an operational level," said Jerry King, president of Boeing Defense & Space Group. "The members of Team ABL agree with Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall's statement that the Airborne Laser program is as revolutionary as the invention of gunpowder or the Manhattan Project."

The Air Force envisions a fleet of up to seven ABLs that will play a key role in America's "tiered architecture" of defenses arrayed against theater ballistic missiles. Able to cross oceans without refueling, the Airborne Laser can arrive on station within hours. It can go into operation immediately providing protection for threatened allies and airfields, ports and other facilities vital to the buildup of follow-on forces.

In addition to its ability to detect and destroy TBMs shortly after launch, the ABL will significantly enhance the performance of other TBM defenses through real-time transmission of precise trajectory data on multiple launches.

Addressing the need for ABL, Boeing Program Manager Paul Shennum said, "Today, there are more than 20 countries including Iraq, Iran and North Korea, that have more than 10,000 theater ballistic missiles in their arsenals. Many also are developing chemical, biological or nuclear warheads."

Dr. Ron Andrews, vice president of the Advanced Technology Center of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space, emphasized that Team ABL's proposed system draws its strength from the quality of the research that preceded it. "Our successful bid for the next phase of the ABL program draws on decades of Air Force and private-sector investment and research," he said. "We're confident that our system will provide an affordable and very effective defense against Scuds and other theater ballistic missiles."

Team ABL's winning proposal calls for the laser weapon system to be mounted in a modified Boeing 747-400 freighter that will operate over friendly territory at altitudes above 40,000 feet. At those altitudes -- above cloud layer -- it will acquire and track missiles as they rise from their launch sites using an infrared search and track system developed by Lockheed Martin.

The ABL Beam Control/Fire Control System, also provided by Lockheed Martin, will then accurately point and fire the TRW laser with sufficient energy to destroy the missile while it is still in the highly vulnerable boost phase of flight, over the launching country and before separation of its warheads.

"Team ABL brings together acknowledged industry leaders in ABL's three program-critical technologies; TRW for lasers, Boeing for systems integration and Lockheed Martin for optics and laser beam control technology," said Joanne Maguire, vice president and general manager, TRW Space and Technology Division.

She noted that the successful Team ABL proposal has been validated over the last few months by a series of tests that demonstrated the maturity of those ABL technologies.

Boeing met the challenges posed by the aerodynamics of the nose turret with a unique design whose effectiveness was verified in a series of wind tunnel tests in which the turret demonstrated excellent aero-optical performance and reduced aircraft drag.

Lockheed Martin successfully demonstrated a full-function laboratory configuration of its ABL target acquisition and laser beam control adaptive optics system, showing that ABL will be able to deliver the required energy on target while operating in a stressing atmospheric distortion environment.

TRW verified the design of its ABL Chemical Oxygen Iodine (COIL) laser by using a prototype "building block" COIL module to demonstrate power and chemical efficiency levels necessary for the company to build a megawatt- class laser that can meet all ABL operational requirements.

TRW, based in Cleveland, Ohio, built the world's first high-energy chemical laser in 1973 for the Department of Defense. Four years later, it integrated a high-energy laser with a beam director that successfully destroyed missiles in flight. In 1981, TRW demonstrated industry's first COIL, the laser selected for the ABL system. Since then, the company has produced two of the world's highest energy chemical lasers, the mega-watt-class Alpha and Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser.

Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space, operating out of Sunnyvale, Calif., draws on extensive beam-control experience in programs like Talon Gold, the Large Optics Demonstration Experiment, Starlab and the ground-based Free Electron Laser Beam Control system. Additionally, Lockheed Martin has been developing precision optical systems for 35 years, including the recently declassified CORONA program work.

Boeing has a long history of successful large-scale systems integration such as the International Space Station. Boeing is the industry leader in modification of its 747 aircraft to perform unique missions ranging from the Space Shuttle transporter to Air Force One.

"This is an historic day for the U. S. Air Force and for those of us on Team ABL," Shennum said. "It's the beginning of a new era in which the high-powered laser is used to defend our country. We'll do the job."

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Contact: Randolph Harrison (206) 655-8632