Boeing launches directed-energy weapon test

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Boeing has achieved "first light" on the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL), while a modified US Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130 is being flight tested in preparation for installation of the directed-energy weapon for an advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) to be conducted next year.

The C-130H test aircraft was modified by Crestview Aerospace to carry the high-energy chemical laser, an underfuselage turret, beam control/fire-control system and two operator consoles. Testing with a low-power solid-state surrogate laser began on 10 October, to evaluate the system's ability to find and track ground targets.

The high-energy laser, meanwhile, was fired on the ground for the first time last month in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and will be installed in the C-130 next year for in-flight firing tests at White Sands Missile Range against selected ground targets. The ACTD effort is intended to demonstrate the military utility of a "several kilowatt" high-energy laser in special-operations gunship missions. A recent change means the programme will transition to the US Air Force Air Armament Center at Eglin AFB, Florida after completion of the demonstration, in a step towards operational use.

The ATL is designed to engage targets while causing little or no collateral damage, making it suitable for use in urban environments. By moving the laser aimpoint and changing shot duration, Boeing says, the operator can destroy a vehicle by targeting its fuel tank, or disable it by taking out a tyre.

While the modified C-130 could be used operationally, Boeing is studying other potential platforms for the ATL, as well as possible improvements to the weapon system. These could include the ability to recycle laser fuel, and the possibility of using solid-state high-power lasers under development.

The first firing of a laser using recycled fuel was conducted re­cently by Boeing and the US Air Force Re­search Laboratory, using a chemical laser similar to the ATL.