Blinded By The Light

June 22, 2007

On the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base located in southern Maryland, our country’s most advanced directed energy weapon system was put on display yesterday. The Airborne Laser aircraft is a modified 747-400 aircraft equipped with a chemical oxygen iodine and solid state lasers that in flight will acquire, track and destroy ballistic missiles at the speed of light.

A mobile laser at high altitude that can take multiple shots at the speed of light is an unmatched defensive capability to defeat accelerating ballistic missiles that have thousands of pounds of explosive propellant in their first few minutes of flight. Within a second, a directed energy laser beam can penetrate the outer and protective skin of a ballistic missile, burning it through completely and halting the flight of the ballistic missile.

The ability to destroy missiles in their boost phase, eliminates the concern of multiple, advanced warheads that ballistic missiles may carry. This further demonstrates the technical ability and philosophy to eliminate offensive ballistic missiles. What stands apart, besides the boost phase intercept capability of the airborne laser (ABL) from all the current deployed missile defense systems, is its economical efficiency on cost of interceptors. After development, the most expensive cost to a missile defense system is the interceptors which range in cost of multiple millions of dollars per missile.

The ABL costs of intercepts are significantly less in the thousands of dollars as this is a direct reflection of the replacement cost of chemicals after each mission. Starting in 2001, our nation began the missile defense development of the ABL and all the directed energy aspects that surrounds the program. These include the major technical and engineering challenges to prove that the physics of the chemical laser works in the confines of a small area, and with compensation effects of the environment the laser beam operates in.

Additionally, a fully operational and modified 747 has been built with the main focal lens in the nose cone that the chemical laser will be targeting through as well as multiple lasers and sensors throughout the plane for tracking and acquiring of the ballistic targets. It has taken about 3.8 billion dollars to develop where the ABL is today.

The remaining challenge is to integrate and place the proven chemical laser system into the 747 aircraft, and following that, conduct a “shoot-down” of a ballistic missile target which is scheduled to happen in 2009. Deployment of an operational ABL, a second aircraft, is scheduled to be available in 2017. This revolution of technology, physics and engineering gives our country the leading and most advanced capability in directed energy which is two to three generations ahead of any nation in the world.

The intellectual force and American ingenuity made up by 1,000 scientists and engineers who have provided this remarkable innovation not only helped secure our national security for the future by being the pathfinder, but they have provided a future vast array of additional commercial and scientific applications to the civilian world from this laser development. Currently, our Congress has proposed around a 250 million dollar shortfall which is close to a 50% reduction of the President’s request for the airborne laser in the FY 2008 budget.

This reduction if up held would delay the operational status of the ABL until 2019 and jeopardize the 3.8 billion dollar investment in this innovative system. We urge Congress not “To Be Blinded by the Light” of this remarkable technology.

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