Lockheed opens new Airborne Laser optical facility

02/23/01 - SUNNYVALE, Calif. (AFPN) - Lockheed Martin Space Systems opened an $8 million, 16,000 square-foot optical test center here Feb. 22 designed to analyze the Air Force's airborne laser beam guidance system.

The Beam Control/Fire Control Integration and Test Facility is a state-of-the-art resource built to validate the optical system that will be aboard the prototype Airborne Laser when it begins its flight tests early in 2002. The tests will culminate in slightly more than two years when the ABL is slated to shoot down a dummy Scud missile over the Pacific Ocean.

The ABL is the world's first combat aircraft armed with a directed energy weapon.

"We're investing in a major new facility that will allow our team to test the sophisticated suite of optical benches, sensors, mirrors and lasers that will be aboard the ABL," said Paul Shattuck, Lockheed Martin's ABL program manager.

Lockheed Martin is one of three major contractors working on the ALB. The company is fabricating the optical system that will steer the laser beam to its target. The Boeing Co. of Seattle, Wash., built the 747-400F aircraft that will serve as the system's platform, and TRW in Capistrano, Calif., is building the megawatt-class Scud-killing laser.

ABL is a theater defense weapon designed to blast ballistic missiles during their propulsion, or boost phase, before they can become a threat to United States or allied troops in the war zone.

The prototype 747 is being modified at the Boeing facility in Wichita, Kan., a process scheduled to be completed later this year.

Once the modifications are complete, the battle management and optical systems will be installed and the aircraft will be put through a series of airworthiness tests. Once those have been done, the ABL will be flown to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for flight tests.

"The Airborne Laser is for real, and we are proceeding toward a shootdown demonstration in 2003," said Col. Ellen M. Pawlikowsi, ABL program director. "Adding the Lockheed Martin facility to the program is a critical milestone for a system that offers a realistic and affordable near-term defensive solution to protect civilians and military assets from attack by theater ballistic missiles."

The new test facility, which includes a high-level optics clean room, has equipment capable of emulating the geometric positions of the nose turret. The turret will house a 1.5-meter telescope comprising the core of the laser targeting system, and a range simulator allowing for end-to-end testing of the design against a simulated target. (Courtesy of Air Force Material Command News Service)