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Factory Testing of Airborne Laser Cannon Completed 568

Posted by michael
from the who's-got-the-popcorn? dept.
Acid-F1ux writes "Lockheed Martin has completed factory testing of the optical benches for the Airborne Laser's Beam Control/Fire Control (BC/FC) system. The Airborne Laser (ABL) is the first megawatt-class laser weapon system to be carried on a specially configured 747-400F aircraft, designed to autonomously detect, track and destroy hostile ballistic missiles."
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Factory Testing of Airborne Laser Cannon Completed

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  • 747-400F (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mfh (56) on Friday April 23, 2004 @08:56AM (#8948576) Journal
    The 747-400F [baworldcargo.com] could be Airforce One (if it's not already), so it would be understandable if these lasers were mounted to it for tracking incoming sidewinders or surface to air missiles. Not sure if it's fast enough for that, or could be. While the BC/FC may be designed to take out larger missiles, this weapon system might make a really smart pro-active chaff system, to secure the President from harm during flight. I think it's a little strange the BC/FC is being mounted on such a large aircraft, with slow scramble speed and low maneuverability, unless the US is planning to have many planes airborne, around the clock, which does seem somewhat wasteful. Nothing is said about the range of this laser, so I'm not sure if it would work from space or not.
    • Re:747-400F (Score:5, Funny)

      by shoppa (464619) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:00AM (#8948614)
      Oh, come on. I saw the documentary starring Harrison Ford and I'm 100% sure that the Prez would bail out in his escape capsule first.
    • Size you muppet. (Score:3, Informative)

      by littleghoti (637230)
      The laser is on a plane this size because a laser powerful enough to destroy missiles from miles away is a big fat bulky ass piece of equipment, that won't fit on a fighter plane.
    • Re:747-400F (Score:5, Informative)

      by BoyPlankton (93817) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:03AM (#8948640) Homepage
      It's a chemical laser. The fuel for the laser takes up a big chunk of that space.
    • Re:747-400F (Score:5, Informative)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:09AM (#8948706) Journal
      I think it's a little strange the BC/FC is being mounted on such a large aircraft, with slow scramble speed and low maneuverability, unless the US is planning to have many planes airborne, around the clock, which does seem somewhat wasteful.
      IIRC, the power plant, optics and electronics for this system are all fairly bulky. This isn't something that you could easily fit into a fighter plane or something slightly larger. I'm not sure how much room (if any) would be left over in a 747 with one of these babies fitted, so it might not even be feasible to put one on Air Force One.

      I imagine they would combine the laser with surveillance and detection functions such as AWACS or Joint STARS. In those cases it would not be such a strange idea to have one on CAP (Continuous Air Presence) over certain theatres of operation. But to defend all of the US with these would be a bit impractical.

      Which leads to the question: what other stuff could they zap with this? Ground-based launchers? Enemy fighter aircraft? SAMs? Or is this thing only good against ballistic weapons?
    • 747 Chassis with destructive laser. My guess as to application:
      • Balistic [nationalde...gazine.org] Missile [vectorsite.net] Defense: (Second link - look above in section 2.6 as well)
      • And mount it in one of these [google.com]
    • Re:747-400F (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172)
      . . .unless the US is planning to have many planes airborne, around the clock, which does seem somewhat wasteful.

      And something we have habitually done. Look into the Strategic Air Command, or just watch Dr. Strangelove.

      KFG
    • Re:747-400F (Score:5, Informative)

      by joehoya (541611) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:23AM (#8948808)
      The ABL system is to be a key part of what is known as Boost Phase missile defense. The idea is that you fly the 747 based ABL system in circles over friendly territoy monitoring a neary balistic missile threat (imagine flying over Japan and watching North Korea). When an enemy ballistic missile is launched, the ABL uses its laser to blow-up the missile while it is climing through the atmosphere (having the advantages of being full of fuel, rising slowly and over enemy territory). See FAS for details. [fas.org]
    • Re:747-400F (Score:4, Informative)

      by Coward the Anonymous (584745) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:32AM (#8948871)
      unless the US is planning to have many planes airborne, around the clock, which does seem somewhat wasteful.

      You mean like the height of the Cold War when bombers with hydrogen bombs where kept airborne around the clock?

      "Throughout the Cold War there were times when tension nearly escalated to nuclear war. The most dramatic was in June 1962 when a U-2 spy plane photographed Soviet missile bases being built on Cuba, 90 miles (145 kilometers) off the coast of Florida. For 14 tense days, the world feared nuclear war would begin. Finally, in the words of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, "the Soviets blinked" and removed the missiles. Khrushchev noted that the nuclear threat, especially the fact that "20 percent of all Strategic Air Command planes, carrying atomic and hydrogen bombs, were kept aloft around the clock," had been a major part of the withdrawal decision." more [centennialofflight.gov]
    • Re:747-400F (Score:4, Informative)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:36AM (#8948914) Homepage Journal
      Laser point defense for a passenger aircraft would be pretty cool, but is unfeasible. To get enough gear into the belly of the aircraft to do that job, you're going to need a bigger aircraft.

      In this case the lasers are multiple megawatt and last time I checked the military was using chemical lasers to yield that kind of output. So it's likely a limited number of shots, and an entire 747 is taken over for the purpose.

      The laser probably wouldn't work from space, the more atmosphere you have to send it through, the weaker your laser is going to be when it gets where it's going. I'd guess the plane is going to be relatively close to the target.

      • Re:747-400F (Score:3, Interesting)

        Except that laser point defense is already used in aircraft. Civilian ones too.

        To protect a plane, you don't need to destroy the missle. It just has to miss. When the missle is detected, a relatively low power laser can disable the seeker head on an IR missle.

        Remember the two El Al jets that were fired upon in Kenya? They were both equipped with this system. There is consideration that this system might be installed in American jets. It's automatic, and the pilot doesn't need to know if it's decoyed missl
    • Re:747-400F (Score:4, Informative)

      by Marillion (33728) <ericbardesNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:41AM (#8948963)
      Airforce One is a 747-200. The 200 has a smaller "bubble" on top. The 747-400F is a freighter version of the 747. The 747 Family Page [boeing.com] has a lot of good information including a page of Milestones [boeing.com] that clearly indicate what AF1 is.

      The reason the 747 even has that bubble, is because the 747 was orginally going to be a cargo-only plane and the nose-cone [boeing.com] on freighter versions of 747's flip up so you can slide big cargo straight onboard.

      My understanding is that the "Laser" (insert Dr. Evil reference) is big enough that there wouldn't be much room for people. The hatch for the beam is on top just behind the bubble. This is a great angle to hit inbound ICBM comming from above the aircraft, but a lousy angle to catch SAM rockets from below it.

      • Re:747-400F (Score:5, Informative)

        by Glock27 (446276) on Friday April 23, 2004 @10:01AM (#8949224)
        The hatch for the beam is on top just behind the bubble. This is a great angle to hit inbound ICBM comming from above the aircraft, but a lousy angle to catch SAM rockets from below it.

        Er, no. The beam exit is from a steerable turret on the nose of the aircraft, and can cover almost the entire hemisphere in front. Note the nifty animation on it's home page [airbornelaser.com]. ;-)

        Also, it is not designed to destroy "inbound ICBMs", it is designed to go after boost phase missiles just after launch. They are easiest to see then, moving relatively slowly, under stress, can't launch decoys AND the debris (including warheads) falls on the launching party's territory. That's the theory anyhow...

  • by Ratface (21117) on Friday April 23, 2004 @08:56AM (#8948580) Homepage Journal
    Lockheed Martin has completed factory testing of the optical benches for the Airborne Laser's Beam Control/Fire Control (BC/FC) system.

    and in other news..

    Reuters reports that the gyroscope that keeps the international space station stable and in the right position stopped working, just hours after a new two-man crew moved in for a half-year stay.

    Someone in Lockheed Martin's Black Ops department is rubbing their hands together gleefully right now!

  • by tdemark (512406) on Friday April 23, 2004 @08:57AM (#8948583) Homepage
    first megawatt-class laser weapon system to be carried on a specially configured 747-400F aircraft

    Hmmm... I thought they were going to use a five megawatt system on a B-1B [imdb.com].
  • by Alranor (472986) on Friday April 23, 2004 @08:58AM (#8948588)
    Call me when they manage to strap the fricking thing to a shark :)
  • by Sanity (1431) * on Friday April 23, 2004 @08:58AM (#8948589) Homepage Journal
    Apparently an early test went horribly wrong when the laser misfired, hitting the home of the project's director (who also runs a school for gifted teenagers), and cooking a large amount of popcorn, which eventually expanded to destroy the house.
  • Real Genius (Score:2, Funny)

    by Apiakun (589521)
    And it's only been 19 years since Real Genius gave 'em the idea!
  • Hmmm.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by danielsedlacek (765501) on Friday April 23, 2004 @08:58AM (#8948594)
    I wonder if Lockheed did a little industrial espionage and miniturized the Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator.
  • Autonomous? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JosKarith (757063) on Friday April 23, 2004 @08:59AM (#8948606)
    I'd be interested by their definition of autonomous - are we talking this thing cruising around looking for a target, or are we talking an operator flagging a missile spotted by something else and the machine taking over from there.
    Either way, brace yourselves for a thousand Terminator/Robotic master references.
  • The laser is really just for communications. Or at least that is what we are saying for the benefit of the invading Kzinti fleet.
  • More Info? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by theNote (319197) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:04AM (#8948653)
    I don't see it mentioned in the article, but the last time I read about something like this, it required a truck full of dangerous checmicals for every shot.

    Does anyone know whther this is the same thing?
    It seems kind of useless if you need that much raw material, you'd only get one shot per plane.

    • Re:More Info? (Score:3, Informative)

      by delibes (303485)
      Google time...

      I guess it's a chemical laser, and probably uses things like flourine gas (nasty nasty nasty, but very energetic). You can read some info about these kinds of things here [fas.org]

      This [spie.org] old report from 1999 actually suggests it uses some other strong oxidisers like hydrogen peroxide and halogens - chlorine and iodine.

      Basically you don't want to be breathing these things in, but you there's a lot of energy available in their reactions.

  • by nharmon (97591) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:05AM (#8948658) Homepage
    Some time ago, Popular Science did a story on this aircraft. The laser beam originates at the tail end of the 747, and is deflected up and over the nose to allow the mirror in the nose to aim the laser in wide arcs.

    So, will this technology make the fighter jet obsolete? I mean, you can't very well out-maneuver a laser. Which means that bombers will have laser weapons on the front, back, top, bottom and sides. Kind of like back in WWII when bombers had machine guns all over the place.

    This certainly changes everything.
  • The article lack some technical specifications... Like what is the usable range of the laser, can it fire through clouds. How long can the plan stay in flight.

    I suspect that the range must be short (few hundred milles at most).So it may be used only for targeting stuff in small countries (as flying a 747 over an hostile country is a recipe for disaster).

    You also need to have a 747 fly for 24hrs a day (this can be managed with several plane but it will surely cost a bundle) Now how many planes will you nee
    • Re:Probably useless (Score:3, Informative)

      by timbos (710908)
      Like what is the usable range of the laser, can it fire through clouds. How long can the plan stay in flight.

      I work in the optics field and there was a feature on the ABL in a recent magazine that I get (Optics and Laser Europe).

      There are actually a number of lasers involved in the whole system:

      • CO_2 for ranging
      • Yb:YAG for targetting
      • Pulsed Nd:YAG for illumination
      • MW CO_2 for the final kill

      CO_2 lasers are usually operated at 10.6m wavelength, which is absorbed fairly strongly by water in the atmosph

    • A few hundred miles isn't short range compared to other weapons. An air to air missile has 50 miles range, cannons have perhaps 1 mile range. This thing fires at the speed of light for hundreds of miles. Get it aimed and the target doesn't have the opportunity to dodge out the way like they do with a missile.
  • by lewko (195646) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:06AM (#8948665) Homepage
    Shortly after the news conference, Lockheed then announced its plan to create a moon base, from where it will fire the "laser" on Earth's major cities. The "laser," was created by Dr. Parsons and shall be known as "The Alan Parsons Project." according to confidential reports.

    Lockheed's shares closed at one hundred million dollars...
  • " designed to autonomously detect, track and destroy hostile ballistic missiles."

    does it leave the friendly ballistic missiles alone?
  • Has anyone contacted Alan Parsons to interview him about his new project?

    (hey, minime, stop humping the laser!)

  • by pipingguy (566974) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:09AM (#8948700) Homepage
    Do you think they could test it out here also:

    1541 Glenfidditch Avenue, Apt 101
    Montreal, Quebec
    Lat: 45.5092
    Long: -73.5539
    Mr. Jason Baumgarinagger

    He plays his stereo too loud at inappropriate times.
  • Mirrors? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by VoidEngineer (633446) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:09AM (#8948703)
    So, would a mirror coating on a missle be an effective counter measure to this laser?

    That shouldn't be too difficult to do... heck, I was silvering mirrors in highschool chemistry class.
    • Re:Mirrors? (Score:3, Informative)

      by darkmeridian (119044)
      That's what many people think. However, the laser kills targets not by vaporizing the entire thing, but rather by converting a small percentage of the target into plasma that expands and then the rapid expansion slaps the target to death. The mirror would have to be perfect. The smallest deviation or imperfection would capture energy and then turn into plasma. This would deflect the target at the very least.
    • Re:Mirrors? (Score:5, Informative)

      by merlin_jim (302773) <James,McCracken&stratapult,com> on Friday April 23, 2004 @10:05AM (#8949278)
      So, would a mirror coating on a missle be an effective counter measure to this laser?

      That shouldn't be too difficult to do... heck, I was silvering mirrors in highschool chemistry class.


      Well this laser is probably a COIL (chemical oxygen iodine laser), the military's favorite for laser weapons systems these days... COILs operate at a frequency of 1.315 micrometers... which is in the mid infrared band, for those that don't know... most mirrors (and substances) are opaque at this frequency; most of the light on this band is from blackbody radiation... here's an excellent primer on infrared transparency and absorbency... [rumford.com]

      You can make a dichroic mirror that reflects that wavelength, but the expense of coating a missle with it may be a couple orders of magnitude greater than the cost of the missle itself.

      Here [cuaerospace.com] is a study of cutting different aerospace materials with a COIL. With a 6kW laser, they acheived a cut rate of .23 meters per minute through inch thick highly polished stainless steel.

      So if you added a mirror to a missile, and this laser is 1MW with comparable focusing capabilities as that used in the above study, assume that it's pulse duration is somewhere in the neighborhood of a tenth of a second, and that the missile is covered with quarter-inch thick stainless steel (unlikely due to weight), and that you have to cut through 10 centimeters of the missile before you affect it's circuitry enough to guarantee non-operation, your mirror would have to be 96.5% efficient in order to work. Mirrors in the near infrared band are typically 80% - 90% efficient using exotic glass chemistries and aluminum front surfaces... this mirror in the mid infrared band would have to be significantly more efficient with far more difficult manufacturing techniques...
  • by StateOfTheUnion (762194) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:10AM (#8948708) Homepage
    The Airborne Laser (ABL) is the first megawatt-class laser weapon system to be carried on a specially configured 747-400F aircraft, designed to autonomously detect, track and destroy hostile ballistic missiles.

    Reading between the lines: This could imply that:

    A less than megawatt laser system may already be mounted and in use on the 747-400F.

    A megawatt laser system may already be mounted on other (than the 747-400F) type(s) of aircraft.

    A megawatt laser system may already be in use in the military for purposes other than the destruction of ballistic missles.

    Call me a tinfoil hat guy, but when the military talks about its secret stuff, often what they don't say is more informative than what they do say.

  • Project Website (Score:5, Informative)

    by black_widow (41044) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:10AM (#8948712) Homepage
    http://www.airbornelaser.com/

    http://www.airbornelaser.com/ [airbornelaser.com]

    The offical project website with pics progress reports et al.
  • Autonomous? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dj245 (732906)
    The Airborne Laser (ABL) is the first megawatt-class laser weapon system to be carried on a specially configured 747-400F aircraft, designed to autonomously detect, track and destroy hostile ballistic missiles."

    Anyone else have the willies that the thing is autonomous? Last I heard this thing had some serious range and could heat up stuff pretty hot. What if it misses? As it is there is nobody to blame, just a plane doing all the work. Its kind of hard to court marial an aeroplane.

    Maybe it would be b

  • by autosentry (595252) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:19AM (#8948780)
    . . . It is that these lasers *never* hit their intended target. We would be better off trying to perfect the first Transformer. Now you know.
  • Just want to know what to expect from the leader of the free world in the future...
  • by DamienNightbane (768702) * on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:38AM (#8948937)
    I hope that the RIAA doesn't get it's hands on any of these new 747s.
  • by AugstWest (79042) on Friday April 23, 2004 @09:48AM (#8949057)
    ...a launch problem, or a design problem?
  • If this is meant to defend against balistic missles fired at the US mainland, wouldn't the planes have to be in the air all the time? Seems pretty wasteful for the low likely hood of attack.

    A better use of this would be as a battlefield deployment. Something like the first Gulf War and defense against SCUDs. Not sure what the range is on this laser, so you might have to be pretty close to the source which might make this impractical.
  • by carcosa30 (235579) on Friday April 23, 2004 @10:21AM (#8949505)
    The first thing I think of when I see this is that it could be used for a blinder/dazzler with an immense range. Instant air superiority.

    Someone said "green lasers burn out your eye..." This may or may not be true of green lasers but I understand that their wavelength is much more subject to diffusion by microabrasions in such materials as glass. If they're shone at car windows, supposedly the effects vary from a large blinding spot on the window to turning the entire window into a brilliant green sheet.

    I understand that blinding lasers are against some Geneva accord. They're so different from blinding grenades, and blinding napalm, and blinding shell fragments, don't you know... Whether or not we respect the Geneva convention at all anymore, or whether such a ruling might just be trampled on by us if we ever got into extremis such as a fight with another technological power, I can easily see us using a theatre-wide laser this way. The benefits would be huge.
  • Till Bill, Part 1 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kmankmankman2001 (567212) on Friday April 23, 2004 @10:37AM (#8949703)
    The Track Illuminator Laser (TILL) illuminates the body of a missile to determine where to point the high-energy laser. Then, the Beacon Illuminator Laser (BILL) is used to determine atmospheric distortion in order to correct the shape of the high-energy laser to shoot down the missile. Tarantino's reach knows no bounds!
  • ABL Facts: (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2004 @10:38AM (#8949708)
    For people thinking you could fit this on ANYTHING else. Go to the airborne laser [airbornelaser.com] page and look at the cutaway. This thing takes the WHOLE plane. Period. Thats why it's on a big, bulky plane. Thats why it won't be on something like airforce 1.

    For people that think it's too slow/big/whatever. Take a look here [airbornelaser.com] on the abl page. It fly's a ways away. Basically, if fighters were scrambled toward it first, the US would know a war had begun. If missile are launched first, it can take a few down before it has to run from the fighters.

    For people that say it has no use because ICBMs are cheap and so many would be launched: China and Russia have lots of ICBMs. Not many others do. It costs a LOT of money. Because the first time you have to use it it HAS to work, you have not only the missiles, but the silos, the staff, the training (continuious), the fuel care, etc, etc, etc. Maintaining a stockpile of ICBMS is a LOT of money. And not easy as russia showed by boinking 2 sub launched ICBMs during Putin's dog and pony show before the election.

    Also, remember, it's limited shots because it's chemical. This isn't some type of perfect solution to fighting in the sky.

    also remember that this is focused on exploding the fuel tank on a ballistic missile, nothing else.

    Also, the Kenetic Interceptor contract has been awarded for development of a boost phase hit to kill interceptor which will provide layered defense with the ABL. These things create a launch area denied, not blanket coverage that means no missile will ever be launched.

  • Fun Stuff! (Score:3, Funny)

    by fuzzybunny (112938) on Friday April 23, 2004 @11:08AM (#8950117) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, I had to laugh out loud at this:
    http://www.airbornelaser.com/fun/

    "Fun stuff: This section has been removed at the request of AirborneLaser".

    What do you mean, the Pentagon has no sense of humor?
  • by Attitude Adjuster (683211) on Friday April 23, 2004 @11:14AM (#8950172)
    This is slightly off-topic, but most independent analyses of the boost-phase missile defense this airborne laser is intended to be a part of say its not going to be very effective. By independent I mean analyses not made by Republican administrations ;)

    You can get the American Physical Society's report on boost phase missile defense here [aps.org] - its in lots of pdfs.

    There is a lot of cool stuff in here. Airborne lasers are covered on pages 293 - 342.

    Here are their conclusions from the executive summary

    "Our main conclusions are the following:

    1.Boost-phase defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) hinges on the burn time of the attacking missile and the speed of the defending interceptor rocket. Defense of the entire United States against liquid-propellant ICBMs, such as those deployed early by the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China (China), launched from countries such as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Iran, may be technically feasible using terrestrial (land-, sea-, or air-based) interceptors. However, the interceptor rockets would have to be substantially faster (and therefore necessarily larger) than those usually proposed in order to reach the ICBMs in time from international waters or neighboring countries willing to host the interceptors. The system would also require the capability to cope with at least the simplest of countermeasures.

    2.Boost-phase defense of the entire United States against solid-propellant ICBMs, which have shorter burn times than liquid-propellant ICBMs, is unlikely to be practical when all factors are considered, no matter where or how interceptors are based. Even with optimistic assumptions, a terrestrial-based system would require very large interceptors with extremely high speeds and accelerations to defeat a solid-propellant ICBM launched from even a small country such as North Korea. Even such high-performance interceptors could not defend against solid-propellant ICBMs launched from Iran, because they could not be based close enough to disable the missiles before they deployed their munitions.

    3. If interceptor rockets were based in space, their coverage would not be constrained by geography, but they would confront the same time constraints and engagement uncertainties as terrestrial-based interceptors. Consequently, their kill vehicles (the final homing stage of the interceptors) would have to be similar in size to those of terrestrial-based interceptors. With the technology we judge could become available within the next 15 years, defending against a single ICBM would require a thousand or more interceptors for a system having the lowest possible mass and providing realistic decision time. Deploying such a system would require at least a five- to tenfold increase over current U.S. space-launch rates.

    4. The Airborne Laser now under development could have some capability against liquid-propellant missiles, but it would be ineffective against solid-propellant ICBMs, which are more heat-resistant.

    5.The existing U.S. Navy Aegis system, using an interceptor rocket similar to the Standard Missile 2, should be capable of defending against short- or medium-range missiles launched from ships, barges, or other platforms off U.S. coasts. However, interceptor rockets would have to be positioned within a few tens of kilometers of the launch location of the attacking missile.

    6.A key problem inherent in boost-phase defense is munitions shortfall: although a successful intercept would prevent munitions from reaching their target, it could cause live nuclear, chemical, or biological munitions to fall on populated areas short of the target, in the United States or other countries. Timing intercepts accurately enough to avoid this problem would be difficult."

  • by ocie (6659) on Friday April 23, 2004 @11:15AM (#8950188) Homepage
    "The flight attendants will now point out the locations of the emergency exits using a laser pointer. Wait!! not that pointer!!!!"

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