The Airborne Laser has taken another step forward in its long slog off the drawing board and into the Pentagon’s arsenal.
The first-of-its-kind 747-400F this month completed a series of low-power test flights, using onboard infrared sensors to locate “an instrumented target board” on an Air Force NC-135E aircraft. Once the Airborne Laser(ABL) found the target, two solid-state illuminator lasers tracked the target and assessed atmospheric conditions–the later function being key to plotting a path to the target for the weapons laser. Since the high-energy COIL (chemical oxygen iodine laser) weapons system has yet to be installed, a low-power surrogate laser fired at the NC-135E.
The accomplishment, lead contractor Boeing said Friday, is proof positive that the ABL’s battle management and beam control/fire control systems can support the plane’s ultimate mission: intercepting a ballistic missile and destroying it in flight.
If all goes according to plan, and that’s a big if, the ABL with a fully installed and tested high-energy laser will go up against a soaring ballistic missile in a test in 2009.