Released: 17 Sep 1998
The Airborne Laser, a modified Boeing 747-400F freighter aircraft, will use multiple laser modules to create a megawatt-class chemical laser that can shoot down theater ballistic missiles shortly after being launched. The Airborne Laser will protect civilians and key military assets from attack by missiles such as the Scuds used by Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.
"These results are another success story for Team ABL, giving the U.S. Air Force continued confidence in program execution," said Col. Mike Booen, director of the Airborne Laser Systems Program Office. "Meeting this milestone within two years, on schedule and cost is a remarkable achievement. The continued technical progress demonstrated by the laser test underscores the robust design of the Airborne Laser system and the vital capability the weapon system will provide to the nation's integrated missile defense architecture."
The test program for the flight-weighted laser module, a multihundred-kilowatt chemical oxygen iodine laser, was completed in late August at TRW's Capistrano Test Site near San Clemente, Calif. Team ABL, which also includes Boeing and Lockheed Martin, achieved initial successful operation of the laser, also known as "first light," June 3.
"We're extremely proud of the dedication, technical discipline and engineering expertise demonstrated by Team ABL's laser integrated product team in producing these outstanding test results," said Joanne Maguire, vice president and general manager of TRW's Space and Laser Programs Division. "Lessons learned from these tests will not only reduce risk for the Airborne Laser mission, but also help extend our history of successful laser development and test programs."
The flight-weighted laser module test program, which included 26 lasing tests over several months, was designed to help the laser development team optimize the module's hardware design and operating procedures, according to Maguire.
"Team ABL undertook the challenging task of developing and producing the first COIL (chemical oxygen iodine laser) designed to meet the stringent timelines, performance, size and weight requirements of a military weapon system," she said. "To go from 'first light' to surpassing the design specifications in less than three months is a monumental achievement, even for the most experienced laser team in the world."
Over the next few months, she explained, technical lessons learned from the laser testing process will be incorporated into an "updated" laser module, which Team ABL will begin testing in early 1999.
"By continuing to develop and test the laser in a rigorous, well-defined manner, we are moving the Airborne Laser program ever closer to operational success," Maguire said.
This test program was conducted as part of a $1.1 billion program definition and risk reduction contract awarded to Team ABL in November 1996 by the Air Force at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. The work is sponsored by the Airborne Laser System Program Office also located at Kirtland.
Team ABL's contract calls for the team to produce, integrate and flight-test the first prototype Airborne Laser demonstration system. The contract is scheduled to culminate in 2002 with a boost-phase shoot-down of a theater ballistic missile. An Airborne Laser engineering, manufacturing and development program could begin as early as 2003. This initial aircraft will provide the Air Force with a residual operational capability.
Team ABL is led by Boeing, which has overall program management and systems integration responsibilities. The company also is developing the Airborne Laser battle management system and modifying the 747-400 aircraft. Those efforts will be done at Boeing facilities in Seattle and Wichita, Kan. TRW is building the laser and the related ground-support subsystem, while Lockheed Martin of Palo Alto, Calif., is developing the Airborne Laser target acquisition and beam control systems.
* Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.