Boeing has begun testing both the flight worthiness of its developmental laser gunship and shooting accuracy of the onboard high-energy chemical laser. This is the flying machine that video gamers have been training for their entire lives.
During the "low-power" flight tests, which began Oct. 10 and conclude later this fall, the laser gunship system will find and track ground targets at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. A low-power, solid-state laser will serve as a surrogate for it’s high-power chemical laser.
To prepare for the tests, the laser gunship, a C-130H from the U.S. Air Force 46th Test Wing, was outfitted with flight demonstration hardware at Crestview Aerospace Corp. in Crestview, Fla. The hardware includes the beam director and optical control bench, which will direct the laser beam to its target; weapon system consoles, which will display high-resolution imagery and enable the tracking of targets; and sensors.
Boeing fired the high-energy chemical laser for the first time in ground tests on Sept. 21 in Albuquerque, N.M. — an achievement known as "first light." Ground tests of the laser will conclude this fall. By 2007, Boeing will install the device on the aircraft and fire it 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 an existing 50-inch-diameter hole in the aircraft’s belly.
"These laser gunships will transform the battlefield by giving the warfighter a speed-of-light, precision engagement capability that will reduce collateral damage dramatically," said Pat Shanahan, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. "The start of flight and laser testing shows that Boeing is making solid progress toward making this revolutionary capability a reality."
Boeing is developing ATL for the U.S. Department of Defense through an ACTD program.
Laser gunships will destroy, damage or disable targets with little to no collateral damage, supporting missions on the battlefield and in urban operations. Laser gunships will produce scaleable effects, meaning the weapon operator will be able to select the degree and nature of the damage done to a target by choosing a specific aimpoint and laser shot duration. For example, targeting the fuel tank of a vehicle could result in total destruction of the vehicle, while targeting a tire might result in the vehicle stopping without injury to the driver.
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.