Airborne Laser program dumped after 16 years and billions spent in development

By End the Lie

For the past sixteen or so years, the United States military has been developing a 747 jumbo jet outfitted with a laser so powerful it can actually shoot missiles out of the air mid-flight.

While this – and so many other projects being developed by our military – seem like complete science fiction, indeed the Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB) was actually being worked on for quite some time.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency announced on February 14 that the Airborne Laser Test Bed underwent its final flight and is now being transferred into long-term storage at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.

However, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) does say that the Airborne Laser Test Bed “demonstrated the viability of a directed energy weapon for missile defense by tracking and destroying a boosting, representative foreign ballistic missile in flight.”

As such, the MDA is continuing their efforts to create more efficient laser technology in order to support missile defense projects. They are planning on doing this in an attempt to greatly cut down on the complexity and costs associated with future directed energy weapons projects.

The jet will be resting indefinitely in the Air Force’s so-called Maintenance and Regeneration Group, which Danger Room rightly points out is colloquially referred to as “The Boneyard.” Chances are this plane isn’t coming back, but the MDA’s statement makes it clear that they are not giving up on this kind of directed energy technology.

The Department of Defense’s budget for 2013, which was just released last week, brought some large (but still far from what I would consider adequate) cuts to their spending.

This was likely a major factor in the decision to send the Airborne Laser Test Bed to the Boneyard along with the MDA’s move to shelve the SBX.

In total, the MDA had around $1 billion cut from their budget, although they are increasing funding for some projects like the SM-3 IIB interceptor which is set to receive $224.1 million in the 2013 fiscal year whereas it only received $13.4 million in fiscal 2012.

The ALTB was first created by the U.S. Air Force all the way back in 1996, after which it was transferred to the MDA.

The Airborne Laser was supposedly going to become “America’s First Light Saber,” although I think we all know that dream was far from realized.

After all of this time, they were unable to fix some of the most problematic aspects of the project.

Some of the major issues were that the laser requires a mixture of toxic chemicals to power it, which all together weighs quite a bit, thus requiring the 747 as a platform.

It was also unable to down missiles at a significant distance, which means that if they wanted to shoot down an Iranian missile with the system they would have to be flying the plane within the borders of Iran.

To make matters even worse for “America’s First Light Saber,” the laser’s accuracy was significantly hindered by less-than-ideal atmospheric conditions.

Altogether it made it far from an ideal weapon, especially since its presence alone in the airspace of a sovereign state could be seen as an act of aggression.

After 13 years of development, the jet was already $4 billion over budget, which is quite astonishing given it had a staggeringly large budget of $500 million per year. By 2009 it was also eight years behind schedule and if it was actually made to work properly it would cost an estimated $92,000 per hour of flight time.

The fact that they would dump so much money into a project for this long which had so little promise and such huge costs is absolutely disgusting. This is especially true when one thinks of all of the horrific conditions so many Americans are forced to live in thanks to the criminal elite and their cronies on Capitol Hill.

Some of our so-called representatives seem to be aware of this, yet they fail to actually take the steps to stop it from continuing.

For instance, in 2009 then Representative Ellen Tauscher, who has interestingly been the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs since June 26, 2009 said, “We can no longer continue to do everything and explore every potential technology.”

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also canceled the development of a second Airborne Laser in 2009, saying that he didn’t “know anybody at the Department of Defense who thinks that this program should, or would, ever be operationally deployed.”

The glaring question this raises is: why on Earth why would they continue to develop it if no one at the Department of Defense actually thought it would be deployed operationally?

The next year, in 2010, the ALTB successfully knocked a “threat representative” missile out of flight from a distance of 50 miles. This resulted in the program receiving an additional $40 million in funding even though the Secretary of Defense himself admitted it wasn’t realistic.

That same year the device failed two tests in a row.

Here is a video of a test in 2010:

Billions of dollars, over a decade and a half of research and what do we have to show for it? Nothing.

Maybe they will now spend their time and money developing more sensible technology like a system for monitoring everything across the entire world. For those who can’t tell, I am being sarcastic. We shouldn’t be spending a cent of our non-existent funds on any of this nonsense.

They claim it helped iron out some problems in missile defense logistics and will help future directed energy weapons projects but the fact that all the way back in 2009 it was admitted that it would not realistically be operationally deployed yet they kept spending our money is troubling.

Did I miss something? Would you like to tip me off to a story? Email me at [email protected]

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3 Responses to Airborne Laser program dumped after 16 years and billions spent in development

  1. Anonymous February 26, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    more money for defense contractors and nothing for the people! what is new

    Reply
  2. Tom Bedlam September 9, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    Well, the giveaway here is that it’s a test bed. While some of the information you need is in the physics, for actually fielding any sort of weapon of this sort you need to try building one and see where the math doesn’t match with reality.

    Sometimes you end up with a lot of data but no fieldable weapon. Chemical and gas dynamic lasers were what was available at the time with high average power outputs, so it was what they had to base the test bed on.

    However, with the advent of liquid cooled solid state laser architectures like HELLADS and ThinZag, you can get high average power outputs like a gas dynamic or chemical laser, only without all the tankage. Seriously, the ABL was limited to maybe 10 shots before landing and re-supplying. Same problems with THEL. It’s not that we learned nothing, it’s that we learned a lot about the entire system design with what we had to work with while waiting for the appropriate laser technology to come along.

    Reply
  3. Ptr October 31, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    The Chinese invented the ZM-87 laser which blinded a US marine a few decades ago… The US went to the UN to ban development of such laser devices. The US Navy recently announced that it will attach a prototype of its Laser Weapons System (LaWS) to USS Ponce and send it to Middle East in 2014. Hypocrisy?

    Reply

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