Strategic Weapons: February 13, 2001

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The US Air Force's twenty year airborne laser program has succeeded in producing a million (plus) watt laser that can destroy a ballistic missile just as it is taking off. It does this by damaging the hull of the missile, which throws off the missiles aim, if not destroying. A seven ton laser turret has been mounted on a Boeing 747-400 (freighter version). Behind a bulkhead 80 feet from the front of the plane, chlorine, hydrogen peroxide and iodine are mixed in an explosive reaction to produce 20-30 blasts from the laser. When a ballistic missile takes off, it is vulnerable for about 18 seconds to a laser blast. After that, the missile warhead is loose and headed down towards its target at very high speed. While a live airborne test will not take place until 2003, all components of the system have worked so far. The laser aircraft would fly over friendly territory and satellite reconnaissance would direct the aircraft, and it's fire control sensors, to areas where missile launches are suspected. The laser can then reach out at targets over 300 kilometers away. The airborne laser aircraft operate automatically against enemy missile launchers, as the time to get an effective shot off is too short to rely on human intervention. One of the items that have taken a long time to develop is the fire control software. The system has to be sure it is hitting a missile, and not a nearby aircraft. Such a system would be very effective against SCUD type missiles. If the live tests go well, six of these aircraft would be in service by 2009. Problems that remain are cloud cover, that degrades the effect of the laser, and cost. The aerial laser aircraft could end up costing over a billion dollars each.

 


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