The Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB), which achieved a historic first shooting down a boosting ballistic missile, demonstrating a directed energy weapon could be used for missile defense, now heads to long term storage, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said.
Between 1996 and 2011, a total of $5.3 billion was spent on the program, of which MDA funded $4.1 billion.
ALTB has flown more than 200 missions, achieved 12 out of 12 knowledge points, and successfully proven the capability of directed energy for missile defense applications, industry team members said.
The ALTB team is led by prime contractor Boeing [BA], which provided the aircraft, the battle management system and overall systems integration and testing. Northrop Grumman [NOC] developed and built the Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) and the low-power, solid state Beacon Illuminator Laser used for atmospheric compensation. Lockheed Martin [LMT] developed the beam control and fire control systems.
Greg Hyslop, vice president and general manager, Boeing Strategic Missile & Defense Systems, said: “Boeing, together with our industry and government teammates, made history with the ALTB showing that directed energy systems could deliver real warfighting capability. We are all very proud of what was accomplished on ALTB over the last 15 years. The lessons learned from this program will impact future directed energy systems for years to come.”
Guy Renard, Airborne Laser Test Bed program director for Northrop Grumman, said, “The ALTB government and industry team showed that a high-power chemical laser could be operated safely in an airborne environment. The Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) operated reliably, producing consistent amounts of power with very good beam quality.”
ALTB may be ready for storage, but MDA continues efforts to develop efficient electric lasers in support of missile defense to significantly reduce the complexity and cost of future directed energy weapons.
The ABL/ALTB built and tested the world’s first airborne megawatt-class laser and demonstrated the ability to acquire, track and destroy a boosting missile. That was verified by placing and measuring lethal energy on instrumented missiles in flight.
ABLTB flew its last mission Oct. 11 from Edwards AFB, Calif., where it successfully collected jitter control and aeroptic turbulence for Science and Technology objectives against the Airborne Diagnostic Target (ADT) aircraft, the agency said.
On Feb. 10, 2010, the Boeing 747-400F airborne laser made history in an intercept experiment where the ALTB destroyed a boosting representative foreign ballistic missile. The experiment was conducted at Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range off the central California coast. It served as a proof-of-concept demonstration for the potential use of a directed energy weapon (Defense Daily, Feb. 16, 2010).
The lethal shoot-down came eight years after the originally scheduled intercept flight test in 2002 for ABL, now ABLTB. That same schedule called for three operational ABL aircraft in 2004, with another four operational by 2006 (Defense Daily, May 13, 1996, Jan. 15, 1997).
In 1996, prime contractor Boeing won the $1.1 billion contract to develop the airborne laser (Defense Daily, Nov. 13, 1996). At the time, the program was designed to provide a speed-of-light lethal capability to intercept all classes of ballistic missile in their early, boosting phase of flight.
ALTB has reached other unprecedented milestones with the system’s onboard systems and sensors, Renard said. "We have shown that the system’s range could be expanded, proven that the system can be operated at various altitudes, and learned more about laser propagation in the upper atmosphere."
The contracts wrapped up in November 2011, and more recently the classified hardware and laser chemicals were removed from the aircraft. The ALTB will be in long-term storage with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis Monthan AFB, Ariz. The aircraft will be screened for reuse and possible display at a government installation or private museum, MDA said.