US military downs missile with high-energy airborne laser

The US military has successfully downed a test missile with an airborne high-energy laser.

The Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) – which was mounted on the nose of a modified Boeing 747-400F – intercepted the “enemy” projectile during its boosting phase by burning a hole in the missile’s side.

“At 8:44 p.m. (PST), February 11, 2010, a short-range threat-representative ballistic missile was launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform. Within seconds, the ALTB used onboard sensors to detect the boosting missile and used a low-energy laser to track the target,” the US Department of Defense (DoD) explained in an official statement.

“The ALTB then fired a second low-energy laser to measure and compensate for atmospheric disturbance. Finally, the ALTB fired its megawatt-class High Energy Laser, heating the boosting ballistic missile to critical structural failure. The entire engagement occurred within two minutes of the target missile launch, while its rocket motors were still thrusting.

“Less than one hour later, a second solid fuel short-range missile was launched from a ground location on San Nicolas Island, Calif. and the ALTB successfully engaged the boosting target with its High Energy Laser, met all its test criteria, and terminated lasing prior to destroying the second target.”

It should be noted that the above-mentioned exercise marks the first directed energy lethal intercept (demonstration) of a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile target from an airborne platform.

According to the DoD, directed energy platforms can eventually be deployed to intercept multiple, fast-moving targets at a range of hundreds of kilometers.