Boeing has completed a key risk-reduction task in its continuing development of an airborne laser anti-ballistic-missile weapon for the US Air Force.

The airborne laser (ABL) prime contractor recently demonstrated that the most critical component, the single oxygen generator (SOG), can meet its ABL mission requirement. The SOG produces oxygen "fuel" for the TRW-designed chemical oxygen-iodine laser.

The early, non-lasing, tests were performed using a section of the ABL flight-weighted laser module (FLM), a building-block for the ABL's high-energy laser.

Boeing says that the tests validate the SOG's design and performance and reduce the risk associated with FLM testing, set for April 1998. Successful demonstration of the FLM is one of several "exit criteria" required for the programme to proceed.

The Boeing/TRW/Lockheed Martin team received a five-year, $1.1 billion, programme-development and risk-reduction contract in November 1996. This covered the development, manufacture and flight test of an ABL prototype aircraft, to be designated the YAL-1A, using a Boeing 747-400F airframe.

The USAF envisions a fleet of seven ABL aircraft, designed to shoot down short- and medium-range ballistic missiles during their boost phases. The industry team stands to earn as much as $6 billion if the project goes ahead.

It is reported that a draft US General Accounting Office study concludes that the USAF has yet to quantify the atmospheric turbulence that the weapon must overcome to destroy enemy missiles at long ranges. A key challenge is to overcome the atmosphere's tendency to dissipate the laser beam.

Source: Flight International