Air Combat Command head Gen. John Corley told Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, last month that he’s “very impressed” with the Airborne Laser based on a program update that he received. The program “has overcome significant technical challenges,” Corley wrote to Obering in an internal memo the Daily Report acquired and confirmed with ACC. And it “appears to be tracking well” for a big flight test next year, he added. During this test, the ABL, a modified 747 freighter aircraft that fires a powerful laser beam out of a nose turret, will attempt to shoot down a boosting ballistic missile. Corley said he is aware of how fiscal constraints have been affecting the ABL program, but reaffirmed that “this technology should remain on track” to achieve the aircraft’s primary mission—the anti-ballistic missile role. Additionally, he said he’s “very interested in the aircraft’s potential for adjunct missions.” For example, there has been discussion in the past of the ABL’s notional ability to attack ground targets and shoot down cruise missiles. (For more, read the September 2003 Air Force Magazine article Setting a Course for the Airborne Laser.) Corley said ACC “remains committed” to transformational technologies that offer the accuracy, flexibility, command and control, and power that a platform like the ABL promises. The command, he noted, has published the ABL operational concept document and will continue to refine it as system performance is better understood. Shortly after Corley’s memo, the ABL program achieved a significant milestone when the laser was fired for the first time aboard the aircraft during a ground test.
The Air Force pointed out numerous operational and programmatic effects from Congress' inability to approve fiscal 2022 funding. These include hits to programs already underway as well as 16 new starts, plus seven military construction projects. Readiness also is suffering because the funding limits maintenance and exercises.