The Missile Defense Agency is developing technology that uses airborne laser to effectively intercept and destroy ballistic missiles during flight. The recent test series marks the first time a laser weapon has intercepted and destroyed an in-flight ballistic missile. The unique plane used was a specially modified Boeing 747-400F based Airborne Laser Test-Bed (ATLB) that utilized the highest-energy laser ever fired from an aircraft, and is currently the most powerful mobile laser device in the world.
The ATLB intercepted an ascending liquid-fueled ballistic missile in its first attempt to shoot down a ballistic missile by a high power laser beam.
An additional attempt, conducted shortly there after, involved a solid-fuel missile launched from a land-based site on San Nicolas Island. The laser engaged the second target but terminated lasing short of destroying it. A similar target was destroyed by the laser last week (February 3rd) in a previous test of the system. At 8:44 p.m. (PST), February 11, 2010, a short-range threat-representative ballistic missile was launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform. Within seconds, the 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 Chemical Oxygen Iodine 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. The experiment, conducted at Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range off the central California coast, serves as a proof-of-concept demonstration for directed energy technology. The ALTB is a pathfinder for the nation’s directed energy program and its potential application for missile defense technology. 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, and at a low cost per intercept attempt compared to current technologies. Northrop Grumman developed the liquid-fuelled megawatt-class High Energy Laser, which utilizes the Beam Control/Fire Control system developed by Lockheed Martin. The Battle Management System developed by Boeing, which is also the Airborne Laser
Additional laser intercepting technology is under development. The U.S. Navy is now fewer than two years away from manning it’s ships with the first generation of ‘directed energy’ laser weapons.