The high-energy laser installed earlier this year on the Airborne Laser aircraft was fired for the first time aboard the aircraft in a ground test Sept. 7 at Edwards AFB, Calif., prime contractor Boeing announced Monday. The firing is a significant milestone known as “first light” on the path to ABL’s airborne attempt to shoot down a boosting ballistic missile next year in a Missile Defense Agency test. “The start of laser firings marks the completion of a 10-month effort to install and integrate the high-energy laser and prepare it for testing,” said Mike Rinn, Boeing ABL program director. The ABL team plans to make additional ground firings of longer duration and higher power throughout the remainder of this year. Flight tests of the entire ABL weapon system will follow. The ABL aircraft is a modified Boeing 747-400F. Northrop Grumman builds the megawatt-class laser that is fired out of a nose turret. “We’re very confident in the ability of the high-energy laser to shoot down multiple missiles,” Alexis Livanos, president of Northrop Grumman Space Technology sector, said in a separate release Sept. 8. Lockheed Martin supplies the ABL’s beam control/fire control system; Boeing builds the battle management element.
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.