Military Tests New Missile Defense System: Lasers Mounted on Jumbo Jets

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandSep 10, 2008 6:31 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Military contractors have successfully fired a high-energy laser attached to a modified commercial aircraft, in a ground test that is a step towards testing the airborne laser system in flight. Boeing and Northrop Grumman are working on the system, which is intended to shoot down ballistic missiles.

The laser is in the back half of a Boeing 747-400F jumbo jet. Subsequent tests will increase duration and power before the beam is sent through a fire control system to a turret mounted in the nose of the aircraft [AP].

A long series of ground tests and flight tests will build up to an attempt to intercept and destroy a ballistic missile in flight; that test is scheduled for August 2009. The Defense Department has already spent $4 billion on the airborne laser system, and the final price tag is expected to reach $5 billion.

The test, conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., lasted only a "fraction of a second" says a spokesman for Northrop Grumman, the makers of the Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL). But this was long enough to prove "the laser is ready to demonstrate power output sufficient to destroy a ballistic missile in flight," he adds [Aviation Week].

The laser would work by heating the missile's skin, weakening it and causing it to break apart from high-speed flight stress. The system

is designed to find, follow and intercept enemy missiles after they’ve been launched, according to the Air Force. In theory, the Airborne Laser would fly below the clouds, where it could track a missile in its "boost flight phase," according to the Air Force. Then, using a high-power laser, it would knock out the weapon near its launch area.... The laser produces enough energy in a five-second burst to power a typical household for more than an hour [Air Force Times].

Image: Boeing/Bob Ferguson

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2023 Kalmbach Media Co.