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American Forces Press Service

Agency to Test Airborne Laser

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2010 – The airborne laser test platform – a high-powered chemical laser aboard a modified 747 -- will undergo its second test late tonight off the coast of California, the director of the Missile Defense Agency announced today.

The objective is to shoot down a missile at twice the range of the first test, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly told reporters during a Defense Writers Group breakfast here.

“We learned so much from that first test that our conclusion was we can operate at twice the range we thought,” he said. The system’s first test took place Feb. 11, when the system shot down a ballistic missile representing a threat over the Pacific Ocean.

O’Reilly declined to give the distance of tonight’s test, but noted it’s greater than 50 miles. And an instrumented test conducted in June indicated an even greater range may be possible, he added.

These high-powered, multimegawatt lasers haven’t been used before, he said, and “there’s a lot of theoretical calculations in how it transmits through the atmosphere and so forth.”

“There was a lot of debate a year ago about whether or not we could shoot it down at all,” he added.

The system’s test in February marked the first directed-energy, lethal-intercept demonstration against a liquid-fuel, boosting ballistic missile from an airborne platform -- in this case, a modified Boeing 747-400F. The boost phase takes place a few minutes after launch, explained Rick Lehner, agency spokesman, in an interview with American Forces Press Service today.

The intent isn’t to make the chemical laser operational, he noted, but to discover whether or not directed energy can be used to shoot down a missile in flight.

“And the answer is yes,” he said. “Directed energy may be a viable missile defense technology in the future.”

The goal, however, is eventually to make the laser platform smaller and more powerful than that of the 747, the general said.

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