House Panel Looks at Reviving Airborne Laser

A House of Representatives is looking at a potential revival of an experimental missile defense aircraft that was retired earlier this year, Wired reported on Monday (see GSN, Feb. 15).

The GOP-controlled House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee last week approved a measure in the lower chamber's annual defense authorization bill that would order the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency to figure out "the costs involved with returning the Airborne Laser aircraft to an operational readiness status" for new trials and so it might "be ready to deploy in an operational contingency, if needed, to respond to rapidly developing threats from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."

The call came less than two weeks after North Korea launched another long-range rocket in what was widely seen as a test of the nation's ballistic missile capabilities. The rocket broke up within minutes of takeoff (see GSN, April 17).

The Airborne Laser program is a decades-old project that focused on embedding ballistic missile-obliterating chemical lasers in modified Boeing 747s; the multibillion dollar effort resulted in only one aircraft and two successful test interceptions in 2010.

The expense of keeping the aircraft in the air was estimated at $92,000 every 60 minutes and it would have to be in close proximity to a missile launch platform to be effective in eliminating a threat, according to Wired.

In its markup of the Defense Department budget allowance, the Strategic Forces subpanel called for almost $75 million in new funding "to preserve the skilled workforce that was involved in the Airborne Laser Test Bed program and to accelerate experimentation with next-generation directed energy system development."

The panel also backed initial study of potential deployment of silo-based missile interceptors on the East Coast (see GSN, April 27).

Should the measure be approved by the Armed Services Committee and survive a House floor vote, it would still have to pass out of conference committee with the Democrat-led Senate (Noah Shachtman, Wired, April 30).

 

May 1, 2012
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A House of Representatives is looking at a potential revival of an experimental missile defense aircraft that was retired earlier this year, Wired reported on Monday.

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