Laser weapon aboard plane successfully destroys missile

laser weapon successfully destroys a missile on board an aircraft

the Boeing 747-400 equipped with a laser. Image: MDA

The Missile Defense Agency speaks of a revolution

The Pentagon has been developing laser weapons for years. Now the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) reports success with a chemical laser weapon installed on a Boeing 747 aircraft. The Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) has succeeded in destroying a short-range ballistic missile shortly after launch. Such tests with the weapon system, which has been in development since the 1990s, were originally planned for 2003 (laser weapon against long-range missiles). The idea itself goes back to the Strategic Defense Initiative launched by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

The Boeing 747’s truck beam destroys the rocket. Image: MDA

As the MDA reports, a drone was used for appropriate threats "reprasentative" Short-range missile fired from a ship off the coast of California. Within seconds, the ALTB’s infrared sensors had detected the missile and tracked it with a kilowatt low-energy laser. Another low-energy laser was then used to measure atmospheric disturbances, and finally the megawatt high-energy laser was used to heat the rocket until it exploded. The whole thing lasted a total of two minutes.

During a second test an hour later, a rocket fired from the ground was successfully detected and tracked, but the high-power laser was turned off so that the rocket was not destroyed. During the flight, the 3. February a rocket with the ALTB destroyed.

The MDA, which only recently had to concede yet another failed attempt with the missile defense system, proudly reports that this is the first successful test with a laser weapon on board an aircraft. The "revolutionary use of direct energy" is suitable for missile defense "very attractive", it is possible to destroy multiple targets hundreds of kilometers away at the speed of light and at low cost.

However, in order to actually destroy missiles during the launch phase, which lasted only a few minutes, the aircraft had to be accidentally in the air in the vicinity. Details of the test are not yet available. In the case of the missile defense system, for example, the successes were often tricked because the launch location and trajectory of the missile targets were not detected by the sensors, but were known beforehand. Good weather also plays a role.

In total, more than 7 billion dollars have been invested in the development of ALTB so far. Defense Secretary Gates last year cut funding in the Pentagon’s 2010 budget for the planned construction of a second ALTB. With the first real success, the MDA will now campaign to put more money into further development. The ALTB is developed by Boeing, Northrop Grumman (high energy laser) and Lockheed Martin (control system).