Laser guns have been a staple of science fiction for decade
but in reality their use is generally restricted to sighting, ranging and targeting applications. But that is all set to change. For the first time an airborne laser (ABL) weapon mounted aboard a modified Boeing 747 has shot down a ballistic missile launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform off the central California coast.
The February 11 test was the first directed energy lethal intercept demonstration against a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile target from an airborne platform. It serves as a proof-of-concept demonstration for directed energy technology for the Missile Defense Agency. The test comes less than a year after a similar test that located, tracked and fired on a target missile. In that test a surrogate high-energy laser was used. That surrogate has now been replaced by a megawatt-class high-energy laser.
The latest test involved launching a short-range threat-representative ballistic missile from an at-sea mobile launch platform. Within seconds, the Airborne Laser Testbed (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.
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