Some readers got all bent out of shape last month, when I dared to suggest that laser weapons -- especially the modified 747 Airborne Laser -- weren't ready to move beyond science fiction. (They didn't like how I used the words "whiz-bang" and "shit," either.)Those people are going to be double-mad now, I suppose. Because "the multibillion-dollar Airborne Laser (ABL) program, considered the Pentagon's best chance to develop a weapon to defeat ballistic missiles in their early, boost phase of flight, is being relegated to a technology demonstration status while a planned five-aircraft purchase by the Air Force is put on hold."The ABL was supposed to start zapping missiles in 2002. Then it was pushed back to 2005. Now, the test is scheduled for 2008. Maybe. Until then, Pentagon's approach to the program is wait and see. Only after that will it be "serious time," a senior Defense Department official says. Originally slated to cost a billion dollars, the ABL has grown into a $7.3 billion behemoth.Despite all this, the ABL remains the Pentagon's "primary" efort to wack ballistic missiles in their early, "boost" phase. The other big project in the area, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (a projectile which slams into the missile, basically), had its budget cut by $5 billion over 5 years.
The DOD official said last week the agency is not committing the funding to complete the program until KEI successfully demonstrates [its] propulsion system in 2008. So in 2008 there are two knowledge points, he said. For ABL it is the shoot-down. For KEI it is a test of the propulsion stack. We will not flesh out the funding until then.