The Airborne Laser program is all about achieving so-called “knowledge points,” so Air Force Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, head of the Missile Defense Agency, explained to lawmakers at a House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing. Obering and his predecessor—now retired Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish—transformed the former troubled “classic acquisition program” into one in which the ABL can pass or fail key events, said Obering. Failing leads to termination. So far, ABL has succeeded: First, in November 2004 by generating first light from its high-energy laser; second, in December 2004 by using its optical control within the 747 platform to control the laser beam during firing; and another point, recently, demonstrated the tracking laser. Obering said last week that the next critical point, coming up this month, will be to fire the atmospheric compensation laser out the nose of the aircraft. And past that is the actual shoot-down of a boosting missile in 2009. If it fails that knowledge point, Obering says the back-up plan is to go with a kinetic energy interceptor. However, he explained that a KEI is the “option, as opposed to the primary program, because in the boost phase, the airborne laser is much more flexible.”
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.