Karen Walker/ORLANDO

A REQUEST FOR proposals (RFP) covering the development of an anti-missile laser system will be released by the US Air Force in May. Two teams aim to win the airborne-laser (ABL) system demonstration/validation award.

The $754 million demonstration phase will allow the winning team, to develop, build and fly a proof-of-concept system, which could be operated from a Boeing 747-400. The eventual programme could be worth around $1 billion.

The rival teams for the programme are Boeing/Lockheed Martin/TRW and Rockwell/Hughes/E-Systems. A single team will be selected in early 1997.

Initial operational capability is due in 2006 - but could be brought forward to as early as 2002 - and will include three aircraft.

The programme, which is managed by the USAF's Space and Missile Systems' Center, appears to have strong, high-level support.

USAF Secretary Sheila Widnall says that the system answers a "clear military need", and that this is the right time to progress with the programme. "I believe that the accomplishments we have seen so far are a genuine ten on the Richter scale," says Widnall.

USAF Chief of Staff Gen Ronald Fogleman says that he sees "no showstoppers" to the programme, despite the fact that "...we have tried very hard not to be captured by this concept and to be its most severe critic".

Among the programme's attractions, are the facts that it makes use of technology gained, from the USA's $30 billion trategic Defense Initiative programme, which has borne little fruit so far.

An ABL system's primary role would be as a first-tier defence against weapons such as the Scud ballistic missile used by Iraq during the Gulf War.

The ABL system's ability to kill a missile while it is still over enemy territory is particularly attractive, making it an especially good deterrent against biological weapons.

Source: Flight International