MAYDAY FOR LASER JET

abl.JPGIn 1996, when the Pentagon first starting pushing the Airborne Laser -- a 747 armed with an anti-missile ray gun -- the idea was to have one of the jets shooting down projectiles by 2002, and fully-functioning by 2008. Over the years, that goal has been pushed back. Way back. And now, it looks like the ABL project is in worse shape than anyone thought.Not long ago, the ABL was supposed to have its first big trial in early 2005. Now, Aviation Week reports, that could slip another year, easily. And the test will be dumbed down, big time. Instead of actually zapping an oncoming missile, the jet will just try to reach "first light" -- in other words, get the chemical oxygen iodine laser to simply power up."One reason ABL has fallen behind schedule stems from serious problems with component quality, Aviation Week says. "Around 800 components, largely in the laser area, were rejected when they were delivered because of shoddy workmanship, complained one industry official. Others argue that many components were being built for the first time, so unanticipated problems were encountered."A recent Congressional report on the program notes that "specialized valves have been recalled twice, laser fluid management software has been delayed due to inadequate definition of requirements, and improperly cleaned plumbing and material issues have required over 3,000 hr. of unplanned work.""We believe we can make ABL work very, very well," says Missile Defense Agency chief Lt. Gen. Ron Kadish, "but we're having trouble doing it."

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