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Space-Based Laser (SBL) (U)

Overview (U):

(U) The Space-Based Laser (SBL) program supports the DoD missions for ballistic missile defense (BMD), space control, and space surveillance. The system provides BMD protection from a space-based constellation of satellites using directed energy (laser energy) to destroy ballistic missiles in the boost phase.

Description (U):

(U) A Space-Based Laser system could provide global, around the clock, near instantaneous ballistic missile defense. Such a system would consist of a constellation of satellites containing multi-megawatt lasers capable of propagating a beam through a large telescope to a target for boost-phase missile intercept and other missions. The constellation would consist of approximately 24 satellites in low-earth orbit. The lethal slant range of the weapons payload would be up to 4000 km, down to about 10 km in altitude. The kill mechanism is via structural failure due to laser heating. The laser beam heats a spot on the target, softening metals and decomposing composite materials until failure occurs. Each SBL satellite would contain a multi-megawatt class advanced laser, a large diameter mirror for focusing the laser beam onto the target, a high power beam control system, surveillance sensors to acquire and track the target and select a vulnerable aimpoint on the booster body, and a pointing stabilization system to steady the laser spot on the target's vulnerable area. Communications within the satellite constellation could be via direct satellite to satellite communication or through satellite relay networks, which would also link to ground command and control.

(U) Each satellite in the constellation could contain an acquisition sensor to provide launch notification, or the system could be designed to accept a cue from SBIRS or an equivalent system. Upon notification of a launch, the appropriate SBL satellite(s) would automatically slew to point the Beam Director at the coordinates provided by the acquisition sensor and begin coarse track. The tasked SBL satellite would then switch to intermediate and fine track sensors to establish a missile track file, to perform typing, and to point the beam director at the correct lead ahead angle for missile kill. The aimpoint would be updated by the reflected energy from the separate illuminator laser.

(U) An AFSPC CONUS-based operations center would control the SBL constellation. The system would be designed to operate in several modes. In the first mode, the system would acquire, track, and type a boosting missile, and then wait for the operator to initiate a firing command. In an alternative mode, operators would provide the commands to track, identify, lase on, or illuminate targets. The operator could also designate geographical areas such that the system itself would initiate boost phase attack on verified missile launches (within the constraints of an operator override capability).

(U) At this time, the primary mission envisioned for the SBL is boost-phase BMD. Possible additional missions include ASAT, DSAT, terrestrial target designation, remote sensing, reconnaissance, air/ground attack, and environmental monitoring. Determining the performance levels and time phasing of these other missions still requires extensive analysis.

(U) The SBL Readiness Demonstrator (SBLRD) is a subscale space demonstration intended to demonstrate the feasibility of the operational SBL concept. It will provide a basis for the development of the operations approach needed for an SBL system. In addition, the demonstration results could impact the specific design requirements for an operational SBL system. There is also potential that the SBLRD may provide significant residual space control and surveillance capability. The current Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) design concept requires a Titan IVB or equivalent class launch vehicle. The SBLRD program is being managed by the Advanced Systems Directorate of the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), Los Angeles AFB, CA for the BMDO. An Air Force contract for the SBLRD program will be awarded after the current BMDO Zenith Star contract ends. Contract kick-off is anticipated in FY99 with a potential demonstrator launch capability in approximately the 2008 time frame.

User Impact (U):

(U) Eventual implementation of an operational SBL capability will provide global, near instantaneous boost phase ballistic missile defense. Boost phase defense offers the following compelling advantages:

- (U) Deters use of lethal payloads due to threat of in-country impact of debris
- (U) Defends against advanced submunitions
- (U) Provides additional tier for leakage reduction
- (U) Prevents saturation of terminal tier
- (U) Mitigates problem of falling debris from terminal intercepts
- (U) Defends/hedges against terminal countermeasures
- (U) Defends multiple threat regions simultaneously through launch zone coverage

Programmatics (U):

(U) Concept/Technology.

(U) Organizations and Funding:
  • (U) AFMC: Funding Source.
  • (U) BMDO.

Images (U):

Force ApplicationSpace Force Application Visionary/Horizon Operational Concept
SBLSpace Based Laser
SBL-ConceptSpace Based Laser Concept
This Table Is Unclassified.

Related Initiatives (U):
Army Kinetic Energy Kill VehicleArmy Kinetic Energy Kill Vehicle
Ground-Based Laser Beam ControlGround-Based Laser Beam Control Technology
This Table Is Unclassified.

Related Requirements (U):None.

Related Categories (U):
Space-Based Missile DefenseSpace Based Missile Defense
This Table Is Unclassified.

Road Map Placements (U):

National Security Space Road MapIntegrated System Road Map
This Table Is Unclassified.

Requirements, Funding and Additional Hotlinks (U):

Space Based Laser Program
1997 Force Applications MAP
1997 Force Enhancement STW
1997 Space Surveillance Dev Plan
This Table Is Unclassified.

Lead Office (U):

(U) Air Force.

(U) Management Oversight
Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO/TOD)
1725 Jefferson Davis Hwy STE 1000
Arlington, VA 22202

(U) Service Staff
1060 AF Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1060

(U) Major Command: Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC)

(U) Program Office
Space-Based LASER Branch (SMC/ADEL)
2420 Vela Way, STE 1467-80
Los Angeles AFB,
El Segundo, CA 90245-4659

(U) Associated Offices
Air Force Research Laboratory [AFRL/VSP (SXP)]
3550 Aberdeen Ave SE
Kirtland AFB, NM 87117-5776

150 Vandenberg St, STE 1105
Peterson AFB, CO 80914-4600

Point of Contact (U):

(U) Maj John Horrocks, Open Phone: None..

Date Of Information (U):

(U) 13 July 1998

(U) Road Map Production Date: 12 July 1999

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