Feeds

Nuke-nobbler raygun 747 scores 'surrogate' test success

Indicates potent Nork splash capability, says Boeing

High performance access to file storage

The USA's amazing jumbo-jet-mounted blaster cannon, the Airborne Laser (ABL), continues progress through flight testing. Lead contractor Boeing announced last night that the ABL has successfully detected and locked onto a test rocket and held a "surrogate" low-power beam on it. Had a full-bore blast been fired, the rocket would have been destroyed.

A Boeing schematic of the ABL aircraft

Talk about a hot ship

"This test demonstrates that the Airborne Laser can fully engage an in-flight missile," said Boeing jumbo-blaster veep Michael Rinn. "Pointing and focusing a laser beam on a target that is rocketing skyward at thousands of miles per hour is no easy task, but the Airborne Laser is uniquely able to do the job."

The flight test reportedly took place on Monday off the coast of California, with the target rocket launched from San Nicholas Island.

The prototype ABL, following many years of development and teething troubles, now appears to be closing in on a full-power flight test against a ballistic missile by the end of this year. All components of the system have been tested separately on the ground, and now the full-strength laser plus its associated sensors, battle management and beam pointing hardware have been installed in the plane (it had previously flown with a low-powered laser only, for trials).

There had been worries among ABL engineers regarding the system's ability to steer the high-powered beam onto target at long distances, compensating for atmospheric effects. Today's announcement is presumably intended to indicate that Boeing and its partners are now confident that this won't be an issue, and that full-bore tests against shortrange Scud-type ballistic missiles from the autumn will succeed.

No matter how well the tests go, however, the ABL may not have a future. The idea of the system would be to mount standing patrols within range of hostile missile-launch sites, as perhaps off the coast of North Korea. In the event of an enemy ballistic missile being fired against the US or an ally, it could be beamed out of existence as it lifted up from its pad or silo.

Such standing patrols would require a fleet of ABLs, though, and all funding beyond the initial prototype and demonstration has now been removed. The Missile Defence Agency may struggle even to get money for a test against an intercontinental missile (ICBM) target following the planned shots against theatre-range jobs.

Critics of the ABL point to its expense and the limitations imposed by its chemically-fuelled laser technology. The ABL's weapon requires large amounts of hazardous fuels - a reload packaged in trolleys for handling at a forward airbase would fill two monster C-17 heavy airlifters. Hints dropped by the US airforce research lab suggest that such a reload might offer as few as 6-10 "shots", too. With electrically-powered solid state lasers going from strength to strength in recent years, the ABL's chem-ray tech is looking more and more like a dead end.

Then it's being suggested that you may not need an energy weapon at all. Other ideas could be at least as suitable for attacking enemy ICBMs during their boost phase - perhaps high-speed interceptors fired from jet fighters, or from patrolling robo-planes. Such ideas are being heavily talked up in Washington at present.

It's also thought that the SM-3 naval missile, fitted aboard US and allied Aegis warships, might be of use here. The SM-3 isn't supposed to be able to hit ICBM warheads during the highest, middle portion of their trajectory: but it can reach into low orbit, as witness its success in shooting down a disabled US spy satellite above the Pacific last year. It might well be able to tackle ICBMs at the beginning or end of their flight - it was noticeable that US and Japanese Aegis ships deployed in advance of North Korea's latest (unsuccessful) long-range rocket test.

All in all, things seem bleak for the mighty raygun jumbo. But the full-dress tests later this year will still be an interesting spectacle at the very least. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.