The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has successfully test-fired the megawatt-class laser built by Northrop Grumman for the Airborne Laser (ABL) system, marking the first time such a powerful directed energy weapon suitable for use in an airborne environment has been demonstrated.
The ground-based test, referred to as "First Light," took place Nov. 10 on ABL's laser testbed at the Systems Integration Laboratory, a special building at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., which houses a modified Boeing 747 freighter fuselage where all elements of the laser system are being assembled and tested.
The test involved the simultaneous firing of all six laser modules and the associated optics that comprise the Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL). The laser systems produced an amount of infrared laser energy that was within pre-test expectations.
"This successful test shows the ABL team has met the engineering and system integration challenges in size, weight and configuration posed by building the world's most powerful laser for use within an airborne environment," said Wes Bush, president of Northrop Grumman Space Technology.
"This is an exceptional achievement by the ABL team and represents a tremendous technological step forward in laser weapons. We are enormously proud of the outstanding work of our team in developing the many innovations required to make this first-ever event happen and in demonstrating our readiness to move to flight aircraft integration."
The ABL is the first airborne megawatt-class laser weapon system. The ABL is a specially configured 747-400F aircraft, designed to autonomously detect, track and destroy hostile ballistic missiles during the boost phase.
The high-power laser is coupled with a revolutionary optical system capable of focusing a basketball-sized spot of heat that can destroy a boosting missile from hundreds of miles away.
The laser and optical systems are controlled by a sophisticated computer system that can simultaneously track and prioritize potential targets.
"First Light" is an important milestone because it verifies the integration, operation and control of six laser modules and their associated optics in the flight configuration," said Steve Hixson, Northrop Grumman ABL program manager.
"We look forward to completing the laser's current ground test program, moving it into the flight aircraft and integrating it with the beam control/fire control system. Completion of those events will move us another significant step closer to shooting down a ballistic missile in flight."
The ABL program is managed by the Missile Defense Agency and is executed by the U.S. Air Force from Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, N.M.
The Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are working closely with the Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency to develop ABL.
Boeing is responsible for developing the ABL battle management system, integrating the weapon system, and supplying the modified 747-400 freighter aircraft. Lockheed Martin is developing the Beam Control/Fire Control system. Northrop Grumman is providing the complete COIL system.
From detection, to tracking, to engagement, Northrop Grumman is bringing its entire suite of expertise to bear on developing a global, layered, missile defense capability.
In boost phase, Northrop Grumman leads an industry team on the Kinetic Energy Interceptors program and is developing the chemical laser portion of the airborne laser; for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program, Northrop Grumman is playing a major role providing the GMD fire control/communications system, better know as the "brains" of the midcourse system.
In the area of sensors, the company is prime contractor for the space tracking and surveillance system (STSS) and is currently the prime on DSP, the retiring sensor system; in modeling and simulation, Northrop Grumman leads the effort at the Joint National Integration Center, the nation's premier missile-defense modeling and simulation center and international wargaming center.
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