Airborne Laser test-fired at high energy levels

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  Sept. 16, 2008 at 10:56 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Boeing and Northrop Grumman last week announced the successful test-firing of a high-energy chemical laser for the first time on board the Airborne Laser aircraft.

Northrop Grumman has been developing the laser and Boeing the modified 747 aircraft it will be deployed upon.

Boeing in a statement described the successful test Sept. 7 as "a major milestone in the development of the Airborne Laser missile defense program." The procedure took place on the ground at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the company said.

"The achievement of 'first light' on board the Airborne Laser aircraft is a key milestone for the ABL team," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. "The team did an extraordinary job preparing ABL for this important test. The program remains on track to reach the missile shoot-down demonstration planned for 2009."

"The start of laser firings marks the completion of a 10-month effort to install and integrate the high-energy laser and prepare it for testing," said Mike Rinn, vice president and program director of ABL at Boeing. "Using Lean process improvements, a joint contractor team reduced laser installation time on the aircraft to about a third of the time required when the laser was installed in the system integration laboratory at Edwards."

Northrop Grumman said in a statement it "designed and built the megawatt-class laser," which it described as "the most powerful directed-energy weapon ever developed for airborne use."

Northrop Grumman said the Sept. 7 test was called "first light" and that it had confirmed the laser "is ready to demonstrate power output sufficient to destroy a ballistic missile in flight."

The company said the Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser fired after being put through a series of activation tests. The firing also confirmed "integration, operation and control of the six laser modules that form the core of the flight laser and their associated optics," it said.

"We're very confident in the ability of the high-energy laser to shoot down multiple missiles from a single platform as part of a directed energy weapon system," said Alexis Livanos, corporate vice president and president of the Northrop Grumman Space Technology sector. "The ABL team has successfully demonstrated the technology and moved us another significant step closer to shooting down a ballistic missile."

More test firings are scheduled over the next three months, Northrop Grumman said.

"The COIL laser met or exceeded all our predictions based on the laboratory test firings in 2005," said Dan Wildt, vice president of Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman Space Technology. "This test was conducted under realistic conditions. The laser fuel was supplied by on-board chemical tanks, and the laser was subjected to atmospheric conditions consistent with those at the altitude at which the aircraft will fly."

Northrop Grumman said the COIL "was fired into an on-board calorimeter, a test instrument that captures and measures characteristics of the beam."

Russian fleet test-fires missiles in northern Pacific

Nuclear submarines of Russia's Pacific Fleet are test-firing ballistic missiles off the coast of Kamchatka in the northwest Pacific Ocean this week.

The maneuvers started Monday and will last through Friday. They are being carried out at the Kura test site, RIA Novosti reported Friday.

"The launches will be conducted from the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea," a Russian Pacific Fleet officer was quoted as saying in the report. He said some of the missiles would be fired over the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's far northeast facing Alaska.

RIA Novosti cited what it described as "open sources" as saying the Russian Pacific Fleet currently operates four to five Delta-class strategic missile submarines.

The news agency said one of those subs, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Delta III class SSBN, carried out a previous missile test launch in August 2007 in the Pacific Ocean aimed at a target in the arctic.


Solovtsov speeds up Russian ICBM tests

The commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces said last week he plans to accelerate testing of his ballistic missile force before the end of this year.

Three-star Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov said Sept. 10 he plans at least four more tests over the next three months. This compares to three previous successful tests this year -- one in June and the other two in August.

"In accordance with an adjusted missile launch program for 2008, we will carry out four missile launches before the end of the year, including a test-firing of the RS-24 ICBM from the Plesetsk base," Solovtsov said, RIA Novosti reported.

The report also quoted Solovtsov as emphasizing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the Strategic Missile Forces. He said that in recent years the SMF had been funded with only 4 percent of the Russian defense budget, which was $387 million this year. Yet they operated two-thirds of Russia's total nuclear warheads.

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