So, a few months ago you might remember we talked about a series of tests of Boeing's airborne laser - a massive, Rube Goldberg contraption housed in a 747 freighter aimed at knocking down ballistic missiles.
During a phoner press conference, Boeing officials mentioned in passing they were working on another system that could engage ground targets. To me, this seems far more logical for such a weapon than one that's designed to knock out missiles...that mission strikes me as redundant.
Well, now it seems Boeing has taken the first step in making the laser gunship a reality by installing the weapon on a C-130H...
Boeing completed the laser installation Dec. 4 at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. The laser, including its major subsystem, a 12,000-pound integrated laser module, was moved into place aboard the aircraft and aligned with the previously-installed beam control system, which will direct the laser beam to its target.
With the laser installed, Boeing is set to conduct a series of tests leading up to a demonstration in 2008 in which the program will fire the laser in-flight at mission-representative ground targets to demonstrate the military utility of high-energy lasers. The test team will fire the laser through a rotating turret that extends through the aircraft's belly.
"The installation of the high-energy laser shows that the ATL program continues to make tremendous progress toward giving the warfighter a speed-of-light, precision engagement capability that will dramatically reduce collateral damage," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems.
"Next year, we will fire the laser at ground targets, demonstrating the military utility of this transformational directed energy weapon."
I just love the idea that a JTAC could soon call in for a laser strike on a target. Move over Spectre, say hello to the new "Vulcan" cannon (Star Trek reference here).
ATL, which Boeing is developing for the U.S. Department of Defense, will destroy, damage or disable targets with little to no collateral damage, supporting missions on the battlefield and in urban operations. Boeing's Advanced Tactical Laser industry team includes L-3 Communications/Brashear, which made the laser turret, and HYTEC, Inc., which made various structural elements of the weapon system.
Can't wait to see the test shoot next year...