Laser weapon against long-range missiles

A smaller version of the Bush administration’s planned missile shield is under development: aircraft equipped with laser weapons

The Bush administration’s planned National Missile Defense (NMD) shield, which will launch anti-missile missiles not only on land, as planned during the Clinton administration, but also at sea and in space, will cause a cost explosion. Originally estimated at $60 billion, the option favored by Bush so far could easily cost hundreds of billions of dollars. And so far, the three tests conducted so far had failed.

They were carried out in optimal conditions, not in bad weather conditions or even in realistic combat situations. After all, it’s not just about spotting the launch of an enemy long-range missile and calculating its trajectory so that shortly after launching it, you can take it out with pinpoint accuracy using your own bullet. Relatively easily love to distribute many dummies from the enemy, which could swap or confuse target detection. In addition, opponents could use long-range missiles to trigger nuclear explosions at a high level, the radiation from which could destroy or impair the NMD system.

Possibly, however, a cheaper system could do the same, which could be deployed earlier and probably further aggravate conflicts with other major powers such as China or Russia. In a $1.6 billion project, Boeing is developing an aircraft-mounted laser weapon for the U.S. Air Force that could destroy long-range missiles rising at the speed of light hundreds of kilometers away.

As part of the Airborne Laser Program (ABL), which was established after the Iraq War "Desert Storm" a Boeing 747 is being rerouted in order to be able to send out a powerful laser beam from its tip. "The Airborn Laser Program is the culmination of over 20 years of research", said Ellen Pawlikowski, the project leader. "This is the Air Force’s first directed energy weapon, and we will use it to shoot down Scud missiles and other airborne missiles to protect our troops on the battlefield." Pedro Oms of the Air Force says the ability to destroy something at the speed of light over hundreds of miles will change war now and in the future: "We are doing something that may be revolutionary, and we are proud to be involved in it."

There is still a long way to go, although the first tests with the prototype are scheduled to take place as early as 2002. If the tests are successful, the first firing tests with Scud dummies will take place in 2003 – and then a fleet of six converted 747s may be ready by 2009.

Laser weapon against long-range missiles

Fantasy about the use

Laser weapon against long-range missiles

The laser will have a power of more than one million watts and is expected to radiate for up to seven minutes. The planes are supposed to be able to fire up to 30 such shots during one flight, which, however, do not have to penetrate the mantle of the enemy missile at all. It is already enough to weaken the metal casing. The speed of the rocket and the prere acting on the mantle will do the rest. The effect of the laser has already been demonstrated in two dummies, one made of metal and the other of polymer compounds.

To generate the laser beam itself, the chemical reaction between chlorine, hydrogen peroxide and iodine is exploited to produce the light explosion. The beam is then directed through a long mirrored tube and exits at the top of the plane through adjustable lenses. For this purpose, not only the tip of the aircraft had to be modified and reinforced, but also the cabin in the fuselage had to be protected from the dangerous use by a solid wall.

Worryingly, it is no longer humans who are to trigger the laser weapon, but this will be the job of the computer system on board the retooled 747. Humans are simply not fast enough, as there is only an 18-second window to track down and launch a missile. Under the specified conditions, the computer system will then trigger the laser. "We have to be not only fast, but also very careful about where we are pushing to", asserts Col. Lynn Wills of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command. That’s why the launch system can be turned off manually.

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