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Airborne laser missile tested on-board for the first time


CALIFORNIA (BNS): Inching closer to developing the Airborne Laser missile (ABL), Boeing and US Missile Defence Agency Monday fired a high-energy chemical laser onboard the ABL aircraft for the first time during ground testing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The development of ABL programme is being closely watched, as it would give a new dimension to the modern weapon systems. The defence scientists are hoping for a full-fledged demonstration of the shoot-out in 2009.

"The achievement of 'first light' onboard the Airborne Laser aircraft is a key milestone for the ABL team," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. "The team did an extraordinary job preparing ABL for this important test. The program remains on track to reach the missile shoot-down demonstration planned for 2009."

"The start of laser firings marks the completion of a 10-month effort to install and integrate the high-energy laser and prepare it for testing," said Mike Rinn, vice president and program director of ABL. "Using Lean process improvements, a joint contractor team reduced laser installation time on the aircraft to about a third of the time required when the laser was installed in the system integration laboratory at Edwards."

The programme is being jointly conducted by Northrop Grumman, which built the laser, Lockheed Martin, which provided beam control and fire control system, and Boeing, which came up with the battle management system.

ABL is a high-energy laser in a modified Boeing 747-400F which would detect, track and shoot down ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight.

A series of tests would now be carried out. There will be additional ground tests, building toward lethal levels of duration and power, said Boeing. The laser would be fired into an onboard calorimeter, which captures the beam and measures its power. Then it would be sent through the beam control system.

The laser will be released from the aircraft through a turret mounted on the nose. To prepare for the tests, modifications to the ABL hangar at Edwards were completed, and additional integration testing of the beam control/fire control system was completed, Boeing said in a statement.

If all goes as per plans; the first airborne intercept of a ballistic missile would be carried out in 2009. The development is being eagerly awaited, as it would be a path breaking technology demonstrator.

Boeing is the prime contractor for ABL, which will provide speed-of-light capability to destroy all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight. The Boeing 747-400 F has been specially modified to hold the high-energy laser in its back half. The beam control and fire system has been installed in the front.

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