- The ABL weapon system will use a high-energy,
chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) mounted on a modified 747-400F (freighter)
aircraft to shoot down theater ballistic missiles in their boost phase.
A crew of four, including pilot and copilot, will operate the airborne
laser, which will patrol in pairs at high altitude, about 40,000 feet.
The jets will fly in orbits over friendly territory, scanning the horizon
for the plumes of rising missiles. Capable of autonomous operation, the
ABL will acquire and track missiles in the boost phase of flight. A tracking
laser beam will illuminate the missile, and computers will measure the
distance and calculate its course and direction. After acquiring and locking
onto the target, a second laser - with weapons-class strength - will fire
a three- to five-second burst from a turret located in the 747's nose.
The missiles will be destroyed over the launch area.
- The airborne laser will fire a Chemical
Oxygen Iodine Laser, or COIL, which was invented at Phillips Lab in 1977.
The laser's fuel consists of the same chemicals found in hair bleach and
Drano - hydrogen peroxide and potassium hydroxide - which are then combined
with chlorine gas and water. The laser operates at an infrared wavelength
of 1.315 microns, which is invisible to the eye. By recycling chemicals,
building with plastics and using a unique cooling process, the COIL team
was able to make the laser lighter and more efficient while - at the same
time - increasing its power by 400 percent in five years. The flight-weighted
ABL module will be similar in performance and power levels to the multi-hundred
kilowatt class COIL Baseline Demonstration Laser (BDL-2) module demonstrated
by TRW in August 1996. As its name implies, though, it will be lighter
and more compact than the earlier version due to the integration of advanced
aerospace materials into the design of critical hardware components. For
the operational ABL system, several modules will be linked together in
series to achieve ABL's required megawatt-class power level.
- Atmospheric turbulence, which weakens
and scatters the laser's beam, is produced by fluctuations in air temperature
[the same phenomenon that causes stars to twinkle]. Adaptive optics relies
on a deformable mirror, sometimes called a rubber mirror, to compensate
for tilt and phase distortions in the atmosphere. The mirror has 341 actuators
that change at a rate of about a 1,000 per second.
- The Airborne Laser is a Major Defense
Acquisition Program. After the Concept Design Phase is complete, the ABL
will enter the Program Definition and Risk Reduction (PDRR) Phase. The
objective of the PDRR phase is to develop a cost effective, flexible airborne
high energy laser system which provides a credible deterrent and lethal
defensive capabilities against boosting theater ballistic missiles.
- The ABL PDRR Program is intended to show
high confidence system performance scalable to Engineering and Manufacturing
Development (EMD) levels. The PDRR Program includes the design, development,
integration, and testing of an airborne high-energy laser weapon system.
- In May 1994, two contracts were awarded
to develop fully operational ABL weapon system concepts and then derive
ABL PDRR Program concepts that are fully traceable and scaleable EMD. A
single contract team was selected to proceed with the development of the
chosen PDRR concept beginning in November 1996. Successful development
and testing of the laser module is one of the critical 'exit criteria'
that Team ABL must satisfy to pass the program's first 'authority-to-proceed'
(ATP-1) milestone, scheduled for June 1998. Testing of the laser module
is expected to be completed by April 1998. The PDRR detailed design, integration,
and test will culminate in a lethality demonstration in the year 2002.
A follow-on Engineering Manufacturing and Development/Production (EMD)
effort could then begin in the early 2003 time frame. A fleet of fully
operational EMD systems is intended to satisfy Air Combat Command's boost-phase
Theater Air Defense requirements. If all goes as planned, a fleet of seven
ABLs should be flying operational missions by 2008.
- Performance requirements for the Airborne
Laser Weapons System are established by the operational scenarios and support
requirements defined by the user, Air Combat Command, and by measured target
vulnerability characteristics provided by the Air Force lethality and vulnerability
community centered at the Phillips Laboratory. The ABL PDRR Program is
supported by a robust technology insertion and risk reduction program to
provide early confidence that scaling to EMD performance is feasible. The
technology and concept design efforts provide key answers to the PDRR design
effort in the areas of lethality, atmospheric characterization, beam control,
aircraft systems integration, and environmental concerns. These efforts
are the source of necessary data applied to exit criteria ensuring higher
and higher levels of confidence are progressively reached at key milestones
of the PDRR development.
- The key issues in the program will be
effective range of the laser and systems integration of a Boeing 747 aircraft.
- Airborne Laser Resources
- The Airborne Laser Program Homepage The
ABL program is managed by the Air Force Phillips Laboratory.
- * Vol. 1, Number 3, July 1995 Airborne
Laser Program Newsletter * Vol. 2, Number 4, August 1996 Airborne Laser
Program Newsletter * Vol. 3, Number 1, February 1997 Airborne Laser Program
Newsletter * Vol. 3, Number 3, June 1997 Airborne Laser Program Newsletter
- Airborne Laser Contract An archive of
documents relating to the ABL contract and source selection process. Most
of these are excruciatingly boring contract legalese, but this represents
the major source of primary program information.
- Airborne Laser (ABL) for Theater Missile
Defense The Airborne Laser (ABL) program is developing design concepts
to minimize engineering risks for an airborne, high-energy laser weapon
demonstrator capable of acquiring, tracking, and killing theater ballistic
missiles in boost phase. The Airborne Laser Experiment (ABLEX) was a series
of experiments propagating a laser beam between two aircraft. Two defense
industry teams, Boeing and Rockwell International, developed design concepts
for the ABL which include a nose-mounted turret, a chemical oxygen-iodine
laser, and a 747 aircraft. At the end of the concept design phase, the
Boeing contractor team was selected to build a demonstrator that will be
- Airborne Laser (ABL) The Airborne Laser
(ABL) Demonstrator Program is an Air Force Advanced Technology Demonstration
program to develop and then demonstrate the necessary technologies to acquire,
track, and destroy theater ballistic missiles during boost phase.
- Phillips Laboratory Scoping Meeting For
Airborne Laser 28 March 1995 - A meeting to discuss environmental concerns
associated with the Phillips Laboratory's Airborne Laser Program was held
April 4, 1995 to solicit public input on any environmental concerns.
- BOEING, LOCKHEED MARTIN, TRW WIN AIRBORNE
LASER CONTRACT November 12, 1996 -- The U. S. Air Force awarded a team
of Boeing, TRW and Lockheed Martin a $1.1 billion contract to develop and
flight test a laser weapon system to defend against theater ballistic missiles.
- Airborne Laser @ Boeing As part of a
US Air Force effort to address the feasibility of an airborne laser system
for defense against those types of missiles, a team comprised of Boeing,
TRW and Lockheed Martin has been exploring the concept of an accurate,
airborne, high-energy laser.
- Airborne Laser - Rockwell Team There
were initially two teams competing for the program: the Rockwell / Hughes
/ Raytheon E-Systems / SVS R&D / Lockheed Martin / Parsons / SAIC team,
and the Boeing / Lockheed / TRW team. The Airborne Laser contract was awarded
on November 12, 1996.
- Laser Beam Propagation and Control SPIE
Proceedings Vol. 2120. Meeting Date: 01/23 - 01/29/94 - Abstracts for the
papers in this volume are located in this file immediately following the
contents list below. All papers are published by SPIE -- The International
Society for Optical Engineering. Includes abstracts of reports on the Airborne
laser experiment (ABLEX) series of experiments.
- Airborne Laser Experiment to study performance
limits of turbulence compensation systems from OE Reports December 1995
issue An interview Russell Butts, Air Force Phillips Laboratory - ABLEX
is an acronym for Airborne Laser Experiment, which was an experiment which
propagated a laser beam from one aircraft to another aircraft. At the receiver
aircraft, an 80-cm telescope and optical system imaged the intensity pattern
incident across the aperture onto a focal plane where the intensity patterns
- FTC NEGOTIATES SETTLEMENT WITH HUGHES
OVER ITEK ACQUISITION; FEBRUARY 9, 1996 - The sale of assets between one
of the partners in each of the two teams competing for a $700 million Air
Force contract could raise prices or reduce investments in technology and
quality for a critical component of an Air Force anti-missile program,
the Federal Trade Commission has alleged. Today, the FTC announced it has
reached a settlement of these allegations with General Motors and its subsidiaries,
Hughes Electronics and Hughes Danbury Optical Systems. The FTC said the
settlement will ensure continued competition for "deformable mirrors,"
part of the adaptive optics system that allow an anti-missile system to
correct for distortions in the atmosphere. The affected system is the Air
Force's Airborne Laser (ABL) program.
- *MIT, USAF, And Team ABL Demonstrate Improved Airborne Laser Active
- *Team ABL Proposes Airborne Laser Weapon System - July 9, 1996
- *TRW Approved to Begin Manufacturing First Laser Hardware for Airborne
Laser System March 10, 1997
- *Team ABL Successfully Completes A Major Program Milestone, March 26,
- *Set Lasers on Stun