Breaking news on the Airborne Laser
The Missile Defense Agency’s Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB) is dead after a long battle with Pentagon budgetary priorities and Congress. ALTB is best remembered for being a far-out directed-energy beam missile defense interceptor that dodged cancellation by the SecDef himself in 2010 by successfully zapping a test missile from the sky, earning it $40 million more and a new lease on life. But even ALTB couldn’t survive last week’s federal budget slashing. ALTB was sixteen years and several billion dollars old. It will be laid to rest at the the Air Force’s Maintenance and Regeneration Group, known as “The Boneyard.” It is survived by the Navy’s Free Electron Laser.
Russia is working on a military laser system, the chief of Russia's Armed Forces General Staff said on Wednesday.
"Work on laser weapons is underway across the world, and that includes us," Gen. Nikolai Makarov said.
It is "too soon yet" to speak about the specifications of the Russian laser system, he added.
According to some media reports, Russia has been developing an airborne laser - the so-called flying laser - to disable enemy reconnaissance and data processing systems, as well as shoot down missiles in flight.
Boeing Airborne Laser Test Bed on Monday received the 2010 Theodore Von Karman Award at the Air Force Association’s (AFA) Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition.
This annual award is the AFA's highest honor in the field of science and engineering. The Theodore Von Karman Award recognizes the Boeing ALTB's achievements in directed energy research and development.
"It is an honor to represent Boeing's Airborne Laser team as it is recognized for this significant industry award. This is a testament to the historic breakthroughs that this program has made, and to the outstanding work of the entire team," said ALTB Program Manager Rich Flanders.
The recent test failure of the experimental U.S. Airborne Laser system was caused by a communications software glitch that led the weapon to prematurely stop firing its beam at a target missile, the Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency said Friday.
The Sept. 1 test of the system installed on a converted Boeing 747 was intended to build off the success of a February firing by demonstrating the effectiveness of the chemical laser system at ranges greater than 100 miles.
The system was able to identify and follow the liquid-fuel, short-range ballistic missile in its liftoff phase, according to an agency press release.
"However, the experiment terminated early when corrupted beam control software steered the high energy laser slightly off center," it stated. "Preliminary indications are that a communication software error within the system that controls the laser beam caused misalignment of the beam. The [Airborne Laser Test Bed] safety system detected this shift and immediately shut down the high energy laser."
Russia is developing a military airborne laser system based on the IL-76 and designed to counter enemy intelligence means in different environments. The design in principle is not new as it was started in 1980. But a decade later, the funding was ceased because of lack of money, however now it was recommenced and goes as planned. However, some military experts doubt the effectiveness of the installation and consider spending money on it is absolutely unnecessary and ruinous to the Russian budget.
The complex is designed to transmit laser energy to remote objects in order to counter the infrared opto-electronic means of the enemy. The laser is able to paralyze the work of intelligence facilities located in space, air and ground.
Many experts do not rule out that the development of such systems is a matter of prestige for the Russian army. The Americans have already created and are testing the airborne laser, which gave a boost to domestic developments, reports Vesti FM.
The Boeing Airborne Laser Testbed successfully shot down a Scud missile-like target at 2044 PST off the California coast, a landmark achievement in the $6 billion program's 16-year history.
The ALTB, a 747-400 freighter modified with a 1MW-class chemical laser and a 1.5m telescope mounted on the nose, used onboard sensors to acquire the short-range ballistic target shortly after launch from an offshore, mobile platform, the Missile Defense Agency says in a press release.
The ALTB then fired a low-energy laser to measure atmospheric disturbances and make corrections. Finally, the ALTB fired the high-energy laser, which destroyed the ballistic missile within two minutes of target launch.
The test marked the first attempt by the ALTB to shoot-down a ballistic missile powered by liquid fuel.
A Boeing official says the YAL-1 Airborne Laser (ABL) will seek to pre-empt critics of the programme's first shootdown test scheduled later this year by...
Former Air Force Chief of Staff, retired Gen. Larry Welch, told lawmakers last week that he believes work on the Airborne Laser, which some say is sure to be cut in this ever-tougher budget climate, should continue but there are other advanced technologies that need investment.
During a March 26 House Armed Services strategic forces panel hearing, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said, "I'm very concerned about Airborne Laser," since this Administration may cancel it. He added that he thinks "that's an extremely dangerous thought because the laser technology, I believe, is to missile defense what the computer chip was to the computer industry."
Welch, who currently is president and chief executive officer of Institute for Defense Analyses and was part of a Congressionally directed study on the future roles and missions of the Missile Defense Agency, said in response, "There are huge technological issues associated with effective laser systems, and while the Airborne Laser, in my view, is something that we need to have, we need to be flying, and we need to be learning about it, but there are also advanced technologies that would make a system order of magnitude more effective, and we need to be making investments in those technologies."
The Airborne Laser (ABL) was conceived to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles in the early stages of their flight.
In September, engineers fired the high-energy laser into a calorimeter aboard the aircraft. But this is the first time the beam has been fired along the full length of the 747.
"The team has now completed the two major milestones it hoped to accomplish in 2008, keeping ABL on track to conduct the missile shoot-down demonstration planned for next year," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems.
Onwards and upwards
The latest ground test was carried out by the US Missile Defence Agency at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
A laser beam travelled the length of the aircraft at one billion km/h (670 million mph).
It raced from the aft (back) section that houses the laser, through the beam control and fire control system, and out through the nose-mounted turret.
The high energy laser is fired from a turret in the aircraft's nose
The YAL-1 Airborne Laser (ABL) is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles, but Boeing is looking to expand its portfolio to include more conventional targets, such as aircraft and cruise missiles.
"We have begun to do some work in simulation to show that there are capabilities for the weapon system in the future, and there are some changes that need to be made because we are optimised for ballistic missiles," says Mike Rinn, Boeing's ABL programme manager.
Boeing later clarified that the multi-mission capability is being developed within the company's internal research and defence budget.
Expanding the ABL's missions would require adapting sensors designed to detect the plume from a boosting rocket motor, as aircraft and cruise missiles have significantly lower thermal signatures. Rinn also says a multi-mission ABL would have to tap off-board radar platforms, such as the Boeing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft.
With budgets for missile defence under special scrutiny, Boeing is also still hoping to maintain current plans to start developing a second ABL platform in FY2012. "It's important that we keep this momentum going for this critical technology that the USA has developed and move this into a second tail as soon as we can," Rinn says.