The U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s airborne laser this week achieved a record first when it shot down a ballistic missile launched off the California coast.
The MDA’s Airborne Laser Testbed, a Boeing 747 with a massive chemical laser in the nose, took off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on Feb. 11 and fired its laser at “a short-range threat-representative ballistic missile “¦ launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform,” reads a Feb. 11 MDA announcement.
The laser locked on to the missile as it was rising in its boost phase and heated it to the point of “critical structural failure,” the MDA statement said.
The agency said this was the first time a laser fired from an airplane in flight has been able to destroy a ballistic missile on the rise.
“This experiment marks the first time a laser weapon has engaged and destroyed an in-flight ballistic missile, and the first time that any system has accomplished it in the missile’s boost phase of flight,” reads a Feb. 12 Boeing announcement. The laser is the most powerful ever installed on an aircraft, according to the company.
The Airborne Laser (ABL) plane is designed to fly just beyond the range of enemy air defenses and use its laser cannon to shoot down ballistic missiles as they are taking off, which is extremely difficult to do today due to the incredibly high speeds that missiles fly.
“Having the capability to precisely project force, in a measured way, at the speed of light, will save lives,” said Michael Rinn, Boeing’s ALTB program manager, of the ABL in a Feb. 12 statement.