Boeing’s heavily modified 747-400F aircraft used in its Airborne Laser program successfully completed its first in-flight test against an instrumented target missile, marking a major milestone for the program, officials said.
The plane was modified at Boeing Wichita. The aircraft is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles while they’re in their boost stage and sending them back down enemies who launched them.
Pointing and focusing a laser beam on a target that’s skyrocketing at thousands of miles an hour is no easy task, Boeing’s vice president and airborne laser program director Michael Rinn said in a statement. “But the Airborne Laser is uniquely able to do the job.”
Boeing describes the test: The aircraft took off from Edwards Air Force Base and used its infrared sensors to find a target missile launched from San Nicolas Island, Calif. The battle management system on board issued engagement and target location instructions to the beam and fire control system, which found the target and fired two lasers to track the target and measure atmospheric conditions. It then fired a surrogate high-energy laser at the target, simulating a missile intercept. Instrumentation found that th e laser hit the target.
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Later this year, the team will test the entire weapon system against in-flight missiles, culminating with the plane’s first high-energy laser intercept test against a ballistic missile.
Boeing is the prime contractor and overall systems integrator on the program. It provides the aircraft and battle management system. Northrop Grumman supplies the high-energy laser, and Lockheed Martin provides the beam control and fire control system.