U.S. Plans New Test of Airborne Laser

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency intends to soon carry out a fourth test of an experimental aircraft-mounted laser system's capacity to eliminate ballistic missile threats, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Oct. 22, 2010).

The test of the Airborne Laser Test Bed was expected as early as yesterday night over the Pacific Ocean near California. The last two tests of the system in September and October were foiled by technical glitches.

A successful intercept could reinvigorate Capitol Hill support for the expensive program. Approximately $4 billion has been spent on the laser system, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009 restricted the effort to research and development. Plans for a second Boeing 747 to be converted to carry the system were scrapped.

The only successful intercept test of the system to date last February succeeded in shooting down a missile from approximately 50 miles. The next assessment would seek to show the weapon could from a greater range eliminate an enemy missile in the "boost phase" of flight (Nathan Hodge, Wall Street Journal I, Jan. 10).

The planned test last night was delayed by weather conditions, the Journal reported.

“Turbulence and wind shear can impact the optics for the sighting equipment on the aircraft,” said agency spokesman Richard Lehner.

The test could occur this weekend (Nathan Hodge, Wall Street Journal II, Jan. 11).

January 11, 2011
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The U.S. Missile Defense Agency intends to soon carry out a fourth test of an experimental aircraft-mounted laser system's capacity to eliminate ballistic missile threats, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Oct. 22, 2010).