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CNN TODAY 13:00 January 11, 2001; Thursday

New Airborne Laser Experiment Held in Kansas

BYLINE: Lou Waters, Rick Lockridge

HIGHLIGHT: U.S. armed forces are preparing technology for battlefields of the future. Defense industry experiments, like the controversial development of a high-tech, anti-missile shield, could eventually change warfare completely.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The new head of the United States military could face many unique challenges in this new millennium. Defense industry experiments, like the controversial development of a high-tech, anti-missile shield, eventually could change warfare completely. CNN's technology correspondent Rick Lockridge shows us another innovative idea that's straight out of "Star Trek."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK LOCKRIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Boeing 747 has been ferrying passengers and cargo around the world for more than 30 years. Who could have foreseen this aging giant would be reborn a hot-blooded killer?

At the Boeing hangar in Wichita, Kansas, this 747-400 cargo plane is undergoing more than 1 million man-hours worth of modifications to turn it into the first of seven U.S. Air Force "missile killers."

COL. ELLEN PAWLIKOWSKI, USAF AIRBORNE LASER PROGRAM: The high- energy laser is focused on the missile. It causes the missile tank to explode, and then the missile to tumble to the ground, far away from where our troops are.

LOCKRIDGE: Relatively low-powered test lasers have shown they can burn holes in simulated missiles and fuel tanks, giving the Air Force confidence its million-watt-plus airborne laser will be able to do the same at great distances.

MAJ. PEDRO S. OMS, U.S. AIR FORCE: To have a program that can go out and touch someone instantly, at the speed of light, is something that I think is going to change warfare for now and in the future.

LOCKRIDGE: The killer laser beam is generated by the explosion of light that occurs when hydrogen peroxide is mixed with chlorine and iodine. A flexible lens in the nosecone compensates for weather conditions. Will it all work?

JOHN PIKE, DIRECTOR, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: Well, the Air Force has been trying to put a laser on a big airplane for nearly a quarter of a century.

LOCKRIDGE: John Pike is a respected weapons-system watchdog.

PIKE: With enough money and enough time, airborne laser will probably achieve many of its goals. Whether it's going to be a useful weapon or not really depends on a lot of things we still don't know.

LOCKRIDGE: Such as, what kind of missile threats will the world face eight years from now, when the ABL's are placed into service? If the project stays on schedule, the first kill-shot fired by this 747 will come in September 2003, when it will try to track and destroy a simulated SCUD missile shortly after launch.

(on camera): This is the first U.S. Air Force aircraft of the year 2000. It's a fitting number for a plane that represents a new kind of warfare for a new millennium.

Rick Lockridge, CNN, Wichita, Kansas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)


Content and programming copyright 2001 Cable News Network