Software error blamed for Airborne Laser test failure

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."

The agency intends to relaunch flight tests starting with assessments today of fixes to the ABL software. An attempt to bring down a solid-fuel missile is expected before the end of September. A test in the middle of October would aim to destroy a solid-fuel missile from three times the distance of the February test.

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