ABL Update

All of the technical capabilities for the Airborne Laser have been proved on the ground and the program is planning a live shootdown in 2009, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, outgoing Missile Defense Agency director, told reporters in the Pentagon Tuesday. Afterwards, however, the effort will go into a “transition period” during which MDA officials plan to examine the lessons learned from the testing phase and simultaneously look at how to manufacture components easier and more cost efficiently—since operational costs are threatening the program’s future. “All of that data will go into deciding what the next tail number will look like,” Obering said. He downplayed the option of utilizing another airframe, saying that the MDA is “very satisfied” with the Boeing 747, but is pushing ahead with looking at manufacturing efficiencies and determining aspects of the platform’s design where some additional risk could be allowed. Obering declined to elaborate on talks with partner nations about a future ABL fleet, saying only that there have been discussions with some of the 18 nations with which the US partners in missile defense efforts and several of them are interested in gaining the capability.