The industry Airborne Laser team has installed all six Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser modules aboard the ABL, giving the prototype aircraft its full megawatt-class power laser beam. And that, says Northrop Grumman VP and president of space technology sector in a statement, means the overall integration of COIL into the Boeing 747-400F platform “more than 70 percent complete.” COIL assembly took three years and installation about five months. The team managed to trim installation time by about one-third after “implementing lessons learned and Lean-plus process improvements” from work done in the system integration laboratory at Edwards AFB, Calif., said Boeing VP and general manager of missile defense systems Scott Fancher. According to Air Force Gen. Trey Obering III, head of the Missile Defense Agency which oversees the ABL program, the six modules, each the size of “a Mini Cooper automobile,” has been refurbished since the SIL tests in 2005 and now are ready “for fully integrated ground testing this summer.” Obering said in a release that much remains to be done but the COIL installation marks a “major step” toward the planned shootdown of a boosting missile in 2009. However, Congress still exhibits concern, cutting money in 2008 and asking for an independent program review.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.