Air Force News

Laboratory completes laser experiment at White Sands

Released: 7 Sep 1999

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN) -- Air Force researchers successfully completed a three-month laser experiment at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., recently.

The experiment showed how a beam-cont rol system could transmit a laser beam over a long, nearly horizontal path to a moving target. The system also corrected for the distorting effects of optical turbulence in the atmosphere. If unchecked, optical turbulence could limit the range and effectiveness of a laser.

Conducted by the Directed Energy Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory, this "dynamic compensation experiment" took place at the directorate's North Oscura Peak site in the northern portion of the Army's White Sands complex.

The site conducts research that will improve the Air Force's ability to track and apply laser energy to destroy missiles. Much of this research benefits the Airborne Laser, a program under development that will use a laser aboard a jumbo jet to destroy theater ballistic missiles hundreds of miles away.

"The dynamic compensation experiment, which was designed to replicate the functionality of the beam control system on the Airborne Laser, was an overwhelming success," said Lt. Col. Todd Steiner, the directorate's program manager for Airborne Laser Advanced Concepts Testbed. "We were able to show a factor of between five and 20 improvement between the uncompensated and compensated laser spots on the target board. This unprecedented performance in strong turbulence is one of the greatest Air Force Research Laboratory achievements of the last decade and will pave the way for future directed energy applications."

Facilities at North Oscura Peak house a one-meter telescope and beam director that projects a 10-watt scoring laser toward various "targets." Targets are either a static site, such as the Salinas Peak approximately 35 miles south of the North Oscura Peak, or a Cessna Caravan aircraft with an instrumented target board. North Oscura Peak also has state-of-the-art tracking and adaptive optics systems that correct the outgoing laser beam for the effects of atmospheric optical turbulence.

Within this experiment, a typical mission includes two hours of system preparation, followed by three hours of laser propagation toward the static Salinas Peak site, followed by four hours of laser propagation on the target board aboard the Cessna Caravan. Over the past three months the experiment team conducted missions four to five days per week, working around weather and other missions on White Sands Missile Range.

A crew of 17 Directed Energy Directorate employees and contractors performed the missions. That included 11 people at the North Oscura Peak site, two at the Salinas Peak site, and four aboard the aircraft, which is operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory.

Contractor support was from the Optical Sciences Company of Anaheim, Calif.; the Albuquerque (N.M.) offices of Dynacs Engineering and Mission Research Corporation; and MZA Associates of Albuquerque, N.M.


* Air Force Research Laboratory - Kirtland
* Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
* U.S. Army