Northrop Grumman announced Feb. 19 that the high-energy laser aboard the Airborne Laser attack aircraft had successfully fired multiple long-duration blasts during ground tests that ended Feb. 12. The test firings were used to “tune” the megawatt-class laser by adjusting and balancing the mixture of chemicals that fuels it, preparing it for the planned shoot down of a ballistic missile later this year. “The hallmarks of these latest firings are durability and repeatability,” said Dan Wildt, vice president of Directed Energy Systems in the company’s Aerospace Systems sector. The Boeing-led industry team noted late last year that the ABL program had completed key 2008 knowledge points and was on track for the 2009 live shoot-down demonstration. Next up, Northrop says, is to fire the tuned laser through the on-board beam control/fire control system into a range simulator, which will be done over the next few weeks to complete the ABL’s weapon system ground testing phase.
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.