Like one of those James Bond villains that just won't die, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's missile hunting laser weapon is once again battling its way back from the boneyard thanks to the "emerging" missile threat on the Korean peninsula. The House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces panel is asking for roughly $75 million in next year's Pentagon budget to keep the Airborne Laser program intact just in case North Korea turns out to have an intercontinental ballistic missile that works.
The Airborne Laser, or ABL in mil-speak, is a hulking Boeing 747 equipped with a massive laser cannon, dreamed up by the missile defense agency to blast boosting missiles out of the sky. It served as a symbol for the bleeding edge of missile defense and weapons technology for a time, but it also came to represent everything that's wrong with Pentagon weapons development. Over budget and behind schedule, it barely dodged the fiscal axe on a few occasions.
After a brief flirtation with success in 2010, the ABL failed to knock a missile out of the sky during its second test. Then it failed again. Sixteen years and several billion dollars into the program, the MDA had an aircraft that didn't work most of the time (and still cost nearly $100,000 an hour to fly even when it was failing). In February, facing mounting pressure to slash wasteful military spending programs, the MDA announced that the ABL had flown its final test flight. The Congressional plug had finally been pulled.
Or so it seemed. Danger Room reports that in a markup of next year's DoD budget the Strategic Forces subcommittee is once again directing the MDA to evaluate the cost of "returning the ABL to operational status"--odd wording, considering the ABL was never reliably operational. The markup specifically cites the "rapidly developing threats from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."
This, of course, piles further absurdity on top of the idea that the ABL would be a potent defense against missile threats. For its part, the DPRK seems to be getting worse at building rockets--its latest rocket test failed at an even earlier stage than its botched 2009 launch. If the Strategic Forces subcommittee lands the funds it has asked for and resurrects the ABL (again), the U.S. may end up hunting missiles that don't function with an airborne laser cannon that doesn't work.
I wish the government would return itself to operational status--it's dysfunctional as everyone knows. Especially at the top.
From my limited experience with high powered lasers, the flaw with using them in open air is that they tend to create plasmas from the atmospheric gases that then just absorb all the energy. The lasers never reach their targets. Space-based lasers are more feasible due to the vacuum. I would be curious to know what went wrong with ABL tests.
I doubt plasma is the problem.The system is fired from 35-40 feet,and the air is pretty thin up there.
Anyone else think we need these things on the ground? So much less costly and whatnot. Coastal Missile Defense Platform. I can imagine it now. No threat of assasinating as D13 has mentioned. Though if your taget is in a plane...
Missing the point. We probably need these, maybe not.But better safe than sorry I guess.
I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.
'Needing these' I meant ground based.
I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.
I agree that federal government spending is wasteful and ridiculous more often than it's not but I don't see the problem here. Directing the Missile Defense Agency to EVALUATE the cost of returning it to operational status is not the same thing as actually funding and starting up the program again.
A laser missile defense system is a great idea, complementing the kinetic interceptors that are already deployed in several places. Both systems have drawbacks and advantages. Laser technology is improving rapidly and recent advances in free electron lasers suggest that building a compact multi-megawatt laser is viable. The Navy is actively pursuing it as a missile defense for their ships. Maybe the Airborne Laser becomes more cost-effective and practical with FEL lasers instead of the massive chemical oxygen iodine laser in the 747. Or maybe there are other uses against different kinds of targets. What may have been a 16-year boondoggle, may ultimately be a useful weapon system given technological advances.
As for the collusion of government defense contractors with elected officials to keep funding alive for multi-billion-dollar projects, well, that's another story....
P.S. PopSci, speaking of lasers, we're anxiously awaiting your report on the world record (55,000 lumens!) laser illuminated Barco 4K 3D digital projector for IMAX screens demoed at CinemaCon in January on a 70 foot screen, and the newly formed Laser Illuminated Projector Association (LIPA). Even more exciting is the demo of the RED camera company's REDRay 4K 3D digital laser projector at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago. RED is planning to sell a home theater version for screens up to 15 feet for under $10k this year. Lasers are about to revolutionize movie theaters and projectors.
Correction; Barco demoed their IMAX laser projector at Moody Gardens Digital Cinema Symposium in January. Apparently it was amazing.
gargh. people that hate the obama administration should hate the other guys more for reasons that are too lengthy to explain.
Given enough time and money, the airborne laser probably can be made to work. The problem is providing it with enough power. The navy can put lasers on ships because they have nuclear reactors available to power them. But until an extremely powerful and lightweight power supply is developed for aircraft, the airborne laser will be too cumbersome and expensive to be worthwhile.
I can just imagine the airborne laser being put into action against a North Korean rocket test. The rocket launches and breaks up. Did the laser cause it, or did the rocket fail on its own? North Korea would assume the worst, they would say that simply having the laser aircraft in the air at the time of the launch would be an act of war. Of course sneezing in their direction is also considered an act of war to them.
Some experts also think that the missiles and rockets that NK parades down their streets are nothing more than fake props, so perhaps those are even less of a threat than the dud they just launched recently. So, if we could make an impressive-looking fake laser (maybe get a Hollywood FX shop to do it), have some well-publicized "tests" where things get blown to bits and incinerated (using hidden explosives in the targets) like you see in sci-fi movies then perhaps we could really scare the crap out of NK and Iran! Sure would be cheaper than a real laser that doesn't do anything useful and costs a mint.
But seriously, lasers can make awesome weapons (both literally and psychologically to the enemy) and I don't think they should be abandoned. Maybe the ABL is a failure but there are others that do show a lot of promise.
Perhaps the North Korea rocket failed, because the USA or someone else installed another virus, similar to the one installed at the Iran nuclear sites.....
See life in all its beautiful colors, and
from different perspectives too!
Lasers are kool. Maybe in a few years when high power output/ low power consumption laser technologies are developed more.
Is anyone else thinking some sort of heavy lift, high altitude, airship or other kind of drone. With some sort of reflector array, Massive powerful ship-bourne laser fires from 100's of miles off their coastline, bounces the beam of the reflector array and fries missiles, planes, tanks and whatever else like a friggin fishstick. sweeet.
There is a lot of talk about electrically powered lasers. They will never be as powerful as the chemically powered ones. There is an inherent loss of efficiency every time energy changes form. If an F-35 was built with a laser weapon, the jet fuel would be burned to create kinetic energy by the engine (1), the kinetic energy would drive a generator to make electricity (2), then the electricity would drive the diode lasers to make light (3). That's three energy conversions. With a chemical laser, the chemicals react to create light, only one energy conversion. Chemical lasers will be the most powerful until those making light from nuclear fission are developed.
If N.Korea launches a nuclear warhead at us; isn't our response a response in kind, even if we defeat their missile? But no, it isn't; is it? We won't launch on N.Korea because of China, no matter what N.Korea does to instigate a nuclear war with us. Sound lame and self-defeating? Welcome to World Slavery 101. You are in servitude to your betters, even when it's proven time and again that they ain't better at anything worthwhile.
A few comments.
- The laser is designed to shoot down missiles in the boost phase and would not be effective as a coastal defense against inbound missiles that are in terminal phase.
- NK is not capable nor do I believe they will be capable of being able to hit the US with a ballistic missile. They keep trying though.
- Politics cost money. Does not matter who is doing it.
- A reflector array would be worthless. The laser would burn right through it.
- The problems of the ABL go way beyond anything discussed here. One consideration might be the number of ABLs required to be continuously operating to provide an effective defense.
- As a defense vs air breathing threats the system has the potential to make everything else obsolete. But MDA never went that way.
i've read that The laser weapon generally take place on the ground, but this project focused to make a laser weapon that could carried on a military plane. try this site guys this is a good one