Friday, February 12, 2010

Destroying ballistic missiles at the speed of light

The Missile Defense Agency of the Department of Defense successfully destroyed a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile with an airborne high energy laser.
The Missile Defense Agency demonstrated the potential use of directed energy to defend against ballistic missiles when the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) successfully destroyed a boosting ballistic missile. The experiment, conducted at Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range off the central California coast, serves as a proof-of-concept demonstration for directed energy technology. The ALTB is a pathfinder for the nation’s directed energy program and its potential application for missile defense technology.

At 8:44 p.m. (PST), February 11, 2010, a short-range threat-representative ballistic missile was launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform. Within seconds, the ALTB used onboard sensors to detect the boosting missile and used a low-energy laser to track the target. The ALTB then fired a second low-energy laser to measure and compensate for atmospheric disturbance. Finally, the ALTB fired its megawatt-class High Energy Laser, heating the boosting ballistic missile to critical structural failure. The entire engagement occurred within two minutes of the target missile launch, while its rocket motors were still thrusting.

This was the first directed energy lethal intercept demonstration against a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile target from an airborne platform. The revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile defense, with the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light, at a range of hundreds of kilometers, and at a low cost per intercept attempt compared to current technologies.
 Reuters has more:
The high-powered Airborne Laser system is being developed by Boeing Co., (BA.N) the prime contractor, and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

Boeing produces the airframe, a modified 747 jumbo jet, while Northrop Grumman (NOC.N) supplies the higher-energy laser and Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) is developing the beam and fire control systems. [snip]

The plane's battle management system issued engagement and target location instructions to the laser's fire control system, which tracked the target and fired a test laser at the missile. Instruments on the missile verified the system had hit its mark, Boeing said.

The airborne laser weapon is aimed at deterring enemy missile attacks and providing the U.S. military with the ability to engage all classes of ballistic missiles at the speed of light while they are in the boost phase of flight.
Dayton Daily News reports that the laser weapon system owes its origins to the Air Force Research Lab and its newly installed commander:
Maj. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski, installed on Friday at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as the AFRL’s new commander, directed development of the laser program from 2000 to 2005 while at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. She was on hand Friday to assume command of the AFRL from Maj. Gen. Curtis M. Bedke, who is retiring.

“We took over the program while it was on paper,” Pawlikowski said of the laser development program. “We built the hardware.”
Network World has more here.

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