"For the first time the U.S. military has shot down a ballistic missile with an airbourne laser beam. The experiment, conducted off the California coast, was to demonstrate the future of defence technology. From the moment the missile was launched, it took the jumbo-jet mounted laser, just two minutes to destroy. The revolutionary use of laser beams is seen as extremely attractive in missile defens More..e, as it has the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light, and is far cheaper than current systems.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. high-powered airborne laser weapon shot down a ballistic missile in the first successful test of a futuristic directed energy weapon, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said on Friday.
The agency said in a statement the test took place at 8:44 p.m. PST (11:44 p.m. EST) on Thursday /0444 GMT on Friday) at Point Mugu's Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range off Ventura in central California.
"The Missile Defense Agency demonstrated the potential use of directed energy to defend against ballistic missiles when the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) successfully destroyed a boosting ballistic missile" the agency said.
The high-powered Airborne Laser system is being developed by Boeing Co., the prime contractor, and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.
Boeing produces the airframe, a modified 747 jumbo jet, while Northrop Grumman supplies the higher-energy laser and Lockheed Martin is developing the beam and fire control systems.
"This was the first directed energy lethal intercept demonstration against a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile target from an airborne platform," the agency added.
The airborne laser weapon successfully underwent its first in-flight test against a target missile back in August. During that test, Boeing said the modified 747-400F aircraft took off from Edwards Air Force Base and used its infrared sensors to find a target missile launched from San Nicolas Island, California.
The plane's battle management system issued engagement and target location instructions to the laser's fire control system, which tracked the target and fired a test laser at the missile. Instruments on the missile verified the system had hit its mark, Boeing said.
The airborne laser weapon is aimed at deterring enemy missile attacks and providing the U.S. military with the ability to engage all classes of ballistic missiles at the speed of light while they are in the boost phase of flight.
"The revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile defense, with the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light, at a range of hundreds of kilometers (miles), and at a low cost per intercept attempt compared to current technologies," the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said."
There are some real problems here, however. Firstly, this missile was known in advance. With all of these tests, the warning time makes them somewhat unrealistic. A real test would have the missile launch window be months long, and the launch should take place without any warning. Further, this system only seems to work in the boost phase - an RV is already very heat resistant, and it would take a HUGE laser to damage one of them. Also, this was a liquid fueled missile. Most serious ballistic missiles will be solid fueled, and thus already very robust. The plane will have to be at least twice as close to a solid rocket booster to cause similar damage, if not closer. Remember that solid rocket motors are insulated to protect the airframe from the heat within. This insulation helps to some extent from the outside in. The best bet may be to weaken the airframe enough to cause a failure. However missiles can be made to spin rapidly, have ablative coatings, or as above some reflective coatings. Thinking back to the Sprint ABM rocket (as I do daily), it would take a building-sized, ground-based laser to even have a chance of catching it in the boost phase.
It is a bad sign if your billion dollar ABM program can be defeated with a 1 inch layer of cork on a missile!
With ballistic missiles, the odds are always tipped towards the offensive weapons. Nothing can replicate the power of a nuclear ABM design, but for some reason this is no longer popular. The most advanced fissile cores are resistant to neutron flux, but the power of a W54 type warhead and hit to kill accuracy combined is enough to destroy any RV... One need not even consider the high power warheads that are in the 100 - 700 KT power range.
Also, laser weapons are no longer futuristic anymore, since they have been developed for at least 30 years now!
One really cool part of this video is the fact that one can see the laser beam start at the plane and travel to the target. It is a very slight delay, but the directionality is clear.
This laser system is interesting because it most likely could be used against many different objects including aircraft, satellites, and even ground targets! However there is nothing cheap about the operation, and it is not yet suitable for common warfare. This is a propellant fed laser system that needs to be refueled after a certain number of shots.