Airborne Laser Team Completes New Phase of Payload Testing
By Mike Hanlon
August 4, 2005
August 5, 2005 The Boeing Airborne Laser (ABL) team has completed flight testing of the system’s passive mission payload, moving the program through another phase of critical testing. This test event, called the Low Power Systems Integration-Passive test, included ground and flight tests of ABL’s battle management command and control system and the Beam Control/Fire Control segment. The Airborne Laser is an intregal part of the Ballistic Missile Defense System designed to protect the United States, its allies, and its deployed troops from ballistic missile attack. Using a megawatt-class Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser housed aboard a modified Boeing 747-400 Freighter, the Airborne Laser’s mission is to detect, track, target and destroy ballistic missiles during their boost-phase, or shortly after launch. Its revolutionary use of directed energy makes it unique among the world’s weapon systems, displaying a capability to attack at the speed of light at a range of hundreds of kilometres.
"Completion of this test phase for the Airborne Laser program further demonstrates the air worthiness and the functionality of the airborne mission payload,” said Boeing Missile Defense Systems Vice President and General Manager Pat Shanahan. “With each testing increment, the ABL Team is making steady progress in bringing the ABL into the hands of the warfighter to defend against ballistic missile threats.”
Boeing is the prime contractor and systems integrator for the ABL, which consists of a megawatt-class, high-energy Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser placed on a Boeing 747-400 aircraft. ABL is designed to detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight. ABL also can pass information on launch site, target track and predicted impact to other layers of the government’s ballistic missile defense architecture.
During this latest phase of testing the ABL, the ABL Team demonstrated the stability and alignment of the two beam control and fire control optical benches with the turret. That test demonstrated the system’s pointing and vibration control functions as well as its ability to acquire targets as directed by the battle management segment.
In May, the ABL’s 1.7 meter wide conformal window was unstowed for the first time during flight, a maneuver necessary for the weapon system to complete its mission of shooting down a ballistic missile in flight. The Team also has demonstrated the battle management and command and control systems ability to autonomously detect and hand off targets using Link 16 secure communications.
With completion of this phase of testing, the ABL YAL-1A aircraft will transition to Boeing’s Wichita facility to undergo final modification to accommodate installation of the high energy lasers and begin Low Power System Integration-Active ground testing. During the active testing, two low power illuminator lasers will be integrated and flight tested to demonstrate acquisition and fine tracking with active illumination. The testing also will verify ABL’s atmospheric compensation design and operation.
Overview of the Airborne Laser
The Airborne Laser program brings together a combination of technologies: a dependable aircraft, advanced detection and tracking devices including three lower powered lasers, infrared sensors, adaptive optics, and the state of the art in high energy laser configuration
These varied components have never previously been joined together into a single integrated weapon system. The Airborne Laser uses six infrared sensors located in the front, rear and sides of the aircraft to detect the plume of a boosting missile.
Once a target is detected, the Airborne Laser’s automated beam control/fire control process kicks in.
First, a laser located on top of the aircraft locks onto the missile to provide accurate location information;
Then, another laser called the Track Illuminator calculates a precise aim point on the missile;
Meanwhile, a third laser called the Beacon Illuminator measures any disturbances in the atmosphere between the aircraft and the target.
All this information is used to accurately point and focus the high energy laser at its intended target.
Using a very large telescope located in the nose turret, the beam control/fire control system focuses the high energy Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser beam onto the fuel-tank area of the boosting missile, holding it there until the concentrated energy causes the missile to rupture.