Airborne Laser (ABL)

December 14, 2004

Dear Friends, Members, and Supporters,

To supplement and strengthen our layered missile defense system, the Department of Defense is developing technology and systems that have the capability to shoot down ballistic missiles with laser beams. These chemical-based lasers have the engineering ability to pierce the metallic skin of a projectile or missile at the speed of light. Destroying a missile in its boost phase ascent significantly reduces the time of engagement and offers robustness to our current missile defense systems, consisting of ground-based interceptors, sea-based interceptors and theater-based interceptors.

The ability to strike ballistic missiles in the first five minutes of flight offers several advantages, compared to the current systems, such as:

Interception of a large and slow moving target,
Elimination of the need of supplementary discrimination technologies that distinguish between decoys and warheads, Deterrence by destroying the missile over the territory of which it is launched from.

Having an air-based interceptor would be a valued asset as it defends against missile strikes from every range unlike any of the current systems.

One of the current systems now being developed is called the Airborne Laser (ABL). It is a 747 jet housed with a chemical laser which would offer air mobility throughout the world. The ABL uses six lasers on board to detect, track, and destroy ballistic missiles; it has the ability of being self-sufficient as well as supplementing and integrating the current detection and discrimination assets.

This air-based interceptor would use its mobile beam control located at the front of the aircraft to look up and shoot up its speed of a light chemical laser beam. Like other deployed air breathing high value assets in our military today, it would be protected from air-to-air and surface-to-air threats, thus making it a defendable and mobile system.

The laser is created by mixing a variety of chemical gases and reflecting them to form a high energy beam. Engineering challenges of a laser are the intensity of the beam, the length of time to sustain the beam, and the quality of the beam. The other significant engineering challenge is creating a stable environment in the air in a confined space to produce the laser.

On behalf of our members, and the American public MDAA represents, we congratulate and appreciate all those who have worked and continue to work on the Airborne Laser (ABL) program.

Resource Library