USA — Agency to Test Airborne Laser

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2010 — The air­borne laser test plat­form – a high-pow­ered chem­i­cal laser aboard a mod­i­fied 747 — will under­go its sec­ond test late tonight off the coast of Cal­i­for­nia, the direc­tor of the Mis­sile Defense Agency announced today.

The objec­tive is to shoot down a mis­sile at twice the range of the first test, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly told reporters dur­ing a Defense Writ­ers Group break­fast here.

“We learned so much from that first test that our con­clu­sion was we can oper­ate at twice the range we thought,” he said. The system’s first test took place Feb. 11, when the sys­tem shot down a bal­lis­tic mis­sile rep­re­sent­ing a threat over the Pacif­ic Ocean.

O’Reilly declined to give the dis­tance of tonight’s test, but not­ed it’s greater than 50 miles. And an instru­ment­ed test con­duct­ed in June indi­cat­ed an even greater range may be pos­si­ble, he added.

These high-pow­ered, mul­ti­megawatt lasers haven’t been used before, he said, and “there’s a lot of the­o­ret­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions in how it trans­mits through the atmos­phere and so forth.” “There was a lot of debate a year ago about whether or not we could shoot it down at all,” he added.

The system’s test in Feb­ru­ary marked the first direct­ed-ener­gy, lethal-inter­cept demon­stra­tion against a liq­uid-fuel, boost­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile from an air­borne plat­form — in this case, a mod­i­fied Boe­ing 747–400F. The boost phase takes place a few min­utes after launch, explained Rick Lehn­er, agency spokesman, in an inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice today.

The intent isn’t to make the chem­i­cal laser oper­a­tional, he not­ed, but to dis­cov­er whether or not direct­ed ener­gy can be used to shoot down a mis­sile in flight.

“And the answer is yes,” he said. “Direct­ed ener­gy may be a viable mis­sile defense tech­nol­o­gy in the future.”

The goal, how­ev­er, is even­tu­al­ly to make the laser plat­form small­er and more pow­er­ful than that of the 747, the gen­er­al said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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