At 8:44 p.m. last night, the stuff of boyhood sci-fi daydreaming became
reality. Using a high-powered laser weapon mounted to a 747 airliner,
the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully shot down
a ballistic missile. The venture was a team effort involving Lockheed
Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing. "The revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile
defense, with the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of
light," the MDA
said. The new weapon is called the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) and
bloggers are discussing how it works and what it means
Some Serious Muscle Flexing, writes Steven D at Booman Tribune: "This sets the stage for a
potential arms race with China. At the least, it is also a warning shot
across Iran's bow, because it increases the likelihood of an Israeli or
American attack against Iran's nuclear facilities if the ALTB system is
viewed as an effective defense against any potential Iranian missile
strikes in response."
Been a Long Time Coming, writes Noah Shachtman at Wired: "This is a test the MDA was hoping to conduct in 2002,
after spending about a billion dollars. But the Airborne Laser ran into
all kinds of problems along the way. The chemicals the jet depended on
to generate its high-strength laser weighed down
the 747. Getting the laser to accurately zap through the atmosphere
proved tougher than anticipated. The Airborne Laser eventually
ballooned into a $7.3 billion project."
Here's How it Worked, explains Jason Mick at DailyTech: "The package features
infrared sensors to first detect missiles by homing in to their
exhaust plume. It then employs two kilowatt-class lasers dubbed
the Track and Beacon Illuminator, respectively, the first of which
tracks the target with precision and the second of which accounts of
the atmospheric disturbances. Then comes the critical step.
A package in the plane's nose underbody uses a very large telescope
to focus a megawatt-class COIL beam (generated by an Chemical Iodine
Oxygen laser) onto sensitive regions of the target."
Remaining Questions "We also don't know" three things, writes Steven D: "(1) the operational range of this new
laser, (2) whether it would work against any potential countermeasures
an adversary might employ in a combat situation, or (3) whether it
could deal with multiple missiles launched simultaneously in time to
prevent all of them from reaching their targets." He argues that these are essential questions to answer before relying on the system in an engagement with a ballistic missile-armed nation.
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