Laser Avenger shoots down UAV in new test

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  Jan. 27, 2009 at 9:15 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Boeing announced Monday that one of its laser systems installed on an Avenger combat vehicle had successfully shown in tests held during December that it could hit and destroy small unmanned aerial vehicles. The test has immediate tactical implications, since such UAVs may be used against U.S. forces in combat zones in larger numbers in the near future.

The firing exercises were carried out in December at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the company said.

The Laser Avenger succeeded in its main goal of locking on to its targets of three small UAVs by utilizing its advanced targeting system. It tracked the three UAVs even though they were flying against a complex background of mountains and desert. The laser system then fired at, hit and destroyed one of the UAVs from what Boeing described as "an operationally relevant range."

"These tests mark the first time a combat vehicle has used a laser to shoot down a UAV," the company said.

Officials from the U.S. Army's Cruise Missile Defense Systems project office attended the exercises, it said.

"Small UAVs armed with explosives or equipped with surveillance sensors are a growing threat on the battlefield," said Gary Fitzmire, vice president and program director of Boeing Directed Energy Systems. "Laser Avenger, unlike a conventional weapon, can fire its laser beam without creating missile exhaust or gun flashes that would reveal its position. As a result, Laser Avenger can neutralize these UAV threats while keeping our troops safe."

Boeing noted the exercises followed a 2007 test in which an earlier mark of the Laser Avenger knocked out improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance on the ground.

"We doubled the laser power; added sophisticated acquisition, tracking and pointing capability, and simplified and ruggedized the design," said Lee Gutheinz, Boeing program director for High-Energy Laser/Electro-Optical Systems. "Boeing developed and integrated these upgrades in less than a year, underscoring our ability to rapidly respond to war fighters' needs."

Boeing said the Laser Avenger system "integrates a directed energy weapon together with the kinetic weapons on the proven Avenger air defense system developed by Boeing Combat Systems in Huntsville, Ala." The system is financed by the company and is intended to show that directed energy weapons are steadily developing and that they are becoming increasingly useful and applicable to the 21st century battlefield.

The company noted that its laser development programs for the U.S. Army and Air Force "include the Airborne Laser, the Advanced Tactical Laser, the High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator and the Tactical Relay Mirror System."

Russian Space Agency called to aid troubled Bulava

Russia's powerful First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov Monday called on Roskosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, to take a hands-on role in helping solve the continuing design and production problems plaguing the Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile.

"There are flaws in the testing of the (Bulava) components on the ground. Often, real tests are substituted by mathematical calculations to match technical requirements," Ivanov told a gathering of senior Russian space officials, RIA Novosti reported.

Ivanov, who also served for many years as Russia's defense minister, has been a strong supporter of the Bulava program. He pledged that despite another test launch failure of the missile from the nuclear submarine Dmitry Donskoi on Dec. 23 in the White Sea, the program would continue until the design and development problems had all been resolved.

The Bulava has now failed in five of its last 10 test launches, a failure rate of 50 percent. RIA Novosti said Russian military officials believed production flaws were probably responsible for the unsuccessful test launches.

The Kremlin has scheduled the Bulava SLBM to be operationally deployed on its nuclear submarines this year, but that timetable is now in doubt because of the recent test failure and continuing production problems. RIA Novosti cited what it described as a senior Russian navy official as acknowledging that further test firings will be required through 2009 before the Bulava can be approved for operational service.

RIA Novosti said each Bulava -- NATO designation SS-NX-30 -- had a payload of 10 multiple independently targeted nuclear warheads that could fly as far as 5,000 miles. The Bulava SLBM has been designed to be the strategic armament of Russia's new Borey-class Project 955 nuclear-powered submarines.

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