Northrop Grumman Corporation, along with industry teammates and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), have begun re-assembly of the world's most powerful laser built for an airborne environment onto MDA's Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft to prepare for high-power system testing.
The integration is taking place at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., following a refurbishment by the company that involved the disassembly and inspection of the high-energy Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) after the successful conclusion of ground tests in 2005. During those tests, the laser demonstrated repeatability of sufficient power and duration to shoot down a ballistic missile.
"ABL, with its future capability to destroy a missile in flight, is a critical and necessary component of an integrated missile defense system," said Alexis Livanos, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman's Space Technology sector. "The high-energy COIL laser beam, traveling at the speed of light, coupled with the operation of the beacon illuminator that is used for atmospheric compensation are examples of how we are employing Northrop Grumman advanced technologies to defend our nation and its assets."
"The laser's refurbishment has allowed us to make improvements to increase reliability and to implement lessons learned during the laser's earlier life in the system integration lab," said Dan Wildt, director of Directed Energy Systems at Northrop Grumman's Space Technology sector. "Due to the enhancements made during refurbishment, we expect the megawatt-class laser to perform even better than demonstrated in the system integration lab during realistic missile shoot down exercises now being planned."
According to Guy Renard, Northrop Grumman's ABL program manager, most components within the COIL showed very little degradation after the laser was fired more than 70 times in previous ground tests. Northrop Grumman worked with large and small companies across the nation to complete the detailed inspection, refurbishment and re-delivery of the laser hardware so that the laser will be ready to perform its critical role in missile defense.
Re-assembly of the laser will continue in 2008 and be followed by ground and flight testing of the integrated weapon system, culminating in the shootdown of a boosting missile planned in August 2009.
The Boeing Company provides the modified 747-400F ABL aircraft along with battle management and leads overall systems integration and testing. Northrop Grumman supplies the missile-killing, high-energy laser, as well as the beacon illuminator laser, which is used to measure atmospheric conditions between the aircraft and the target. Lockheed Martin provides the beam control/fire control system, which incorporates the beacon illuminator laser and ABL's other illuminator, the track illuminator laser, which tracks hostile ballistic missiles.
The ABL will be the first combat aircraft relying entirely upon a directed energy device as a weapon. It is designed to use directed energy to destroy a ballistic missile target shortly after it is launched during its "boost phase" of flight when it is considered to be the most vulnerable. When operational, the ABL will be an integral part of a layered Ballistic Missile Defense System.