The Heritage Foundation
Protecting America in the New Missile Age


James Carafano on the ABL

February 23rd, 2010

James Carafano

In his recent Washington Examiner column, the Heritage Foundation‘s James Carafano recounts the successful Airborne Laser (ABL) test that occurred earlier this month. Within two minutes of launching, the high-energy laser found its target and destroyed it.

“Not bad for a defensive weapon once ridiculed as science fiction,” Carafano writes. “Skeptics even persuaded the Obama administration to slot the airborne laser for the ninth circle of procurement hell — a pit for dead-end research and development programs. But this month’s dramatic success has put the critics on their heels…The Point Mugu exercise was what engineers call a ‘proof of principle’ test. They tested it. It is proven.”

Despite the ABL’s success, the Obama administration opted not to build a second test aircraft. Why? “It will argue laser missile defense makes no sense because the weapon’s range is limited to a few hundred kilometers. That would put the lumbering aircraft well within the range of air defense systems fielded by the likes of North Korea and Iran.”

But shorter-range Scud missiles, however, are threats that the ABL can counter. The former Soviet Union made these missiles, and today other countries make their own. Carafano notes that Iran’s Shahab-3 is an advanced Scud variant probably capable of traveling 1,000 kilometers and carrying a warhead.

“It couldn’t reach Washington from Tehran, but then, it wouldn’t have to. Iran could easily extend the missile’s reach simply by moving it to a commercial freighter and firing it from nearby using an improvised vertical launch tube disguised as cargo.”

Is this something worth worrying about? Please post a comment at the Washington Examiner.

MDA’s New Airborne Laser Video

January 25th, 2010


The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has released a video that shows the Airborne Laser (ABL) successfully firing at a target missile. View the video at the ABL web page.

“This test demonstrated the full functionality of the ABL system to successfully acquire, track, and engage a boosting target,” according to the MDA. “Test instrumentation aboard the MARTI collected data to evaluate ABL laser system performance. This test engagement was not intended to lethally destroy the missile.”

Last summer, defense contractor Boeing and the MDA announced the success of the ABL’s first in-flight test. The ABL tracked and hit a missile target launched from San Nicolas Island off the California coast. The ABL was mounted to Boeing’s modified 747, which took off from Edwards Air Force Base, and its infrared sensors found the target.

Think Tank: Missile Defense Budget Cuts Harmful

August 14th, 2009

defenseAccording to a new report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the administration’s shift from emphasizing strategic ballistic missile interception systems to battlefield missile defense would save money but hamper our ability to protect against missile attacks. (Source)

The Obama administration proposes to cut $1.4 billion from the missile defense budget. The report’s author notes the administration’s proposal to reduce ground-based interceptors from 44 to 30 with no plans to replace or replenish the program. The budget for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system would be reduced by 35 percent, and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense program would see cuts for the next fiscal year.

The Airborne Laser (ABL) program, which had its first successful in-flight test this week, would see a $214 million decrease if the budget is passed. Perhaps the success of the ABL will prompt the president to commission another ABL aircraft.

The administration proposes to cancel the Multiple Kill Vehicle and Kinetic Energy Interceptor programs.

See the Center’s 50-page report (PDF) for analyses of how these budget cuts affect our national defense.

Boeing Airborne Laser Test Successful

August 14th, 2009

ABLDefense contractor Boeing and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced the success of the Airborne Laser’s (ABL) first in-flight test. The ABL tracked and hit a missile target launched from San Nicolas Island off the California coast. (Source)

The ABL was mounted to Boeing’s modified 747, which took off from Edwards Air Force Base, and its infrared sensors found the target.

Michael Rinn, Boeing vice president and head of the ABL program, said, “This test demonstrates that the Airborne Laser can fully engage an in-flight missile with its battle management and beam control/fire control system. Pointing and focusing a laser beam on a target that is rocketing skyward at thousands of miles per hour is no easy task, but the Airborne Laser is uniquely able to do the job.”

Obama Reshapes Military

June 16th, 2009

Jim Talent and Mackenzie Eaglen of the Heritage Foundation make the case that President Barack Obama’s budget cuts will reshape the U.S. military as we know it.

“If Congress ultimately gives the Administration what it wants,” they write, “America’s armed forces will lose capabilities that its leaders and citizens have come to take for granted.”

Capabilities like strategic defense, control of the seas, and air superiority will be lost. With rogue countries determined to acquire nuclear weapons, the timing couldn’t be worse. The administration proposes to cut $1.4 billion from missile defense. The Airborne Laser boost-phase program and the Multiple Kill Vehicle and Kinetic Energy Interceptor, as well as the expansion of ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, would be cut. Last week, Alaska governor Sarah Palin said, “Reducing Alaska’s defense readiness in these perilous times is a show of weakness, it is not a sign of strength…And yet, Washington thinks it’ best now to actually cut defense spending in Alaska by hundreds of millions of dollars. Now that is an odd priority there.”

Odd, indeed. The president has already made it clear that he is not committed to building missile defense shields in Poland and the Czech Republic. Talent and Eaglen say liberals’ opposition to strong missile defense was understandable during the Cold War. It’s dangerously behind the times now.

“[T]he Cold War has been over for nearly 20 years, and missile defense today is a clear tool for peace. In fact, it may be the only stabilizing tool available to prevent a global nuclear arms race. As the ballistic missile programs of North Korea and Iran continue to mature, America must invest in a comprehensive, multi-layered missile defense system to stay ahead of the technology curve–instead of deemphasizing and restructuring the program for a more a constrained vision of what the future may hold.”

Read the rest at

Airborne Laser Terrier Lynx Tests Successful

June 16th, 2009

MDAThe Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft successfully competed its first two tracking tests against boosting missile targets over the Pacific Ocean on June 6 and June 13, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced. From the release:

“These tests mark the first time ABL has demonstrated a complete low-power engagement sequence against a boosting target, in this case a ground-launched Terrier-Lynx missile. The missile was launched from San Nicolas Island , located in the Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range, off the central California coast.”

The ABL is part of the MDA’s plan to stop ballistic missiles in the ascent phase.

Missile Defense Quick Links for Monday

April 27th, 2009

>> This weekend the New York Times published a story that highlighted opposing reactions to North Korea’s recent rocket launch. While some considered the launch a failure because the rocket didn’t reach its target, others see the bigger picture: North Korea’s willingness to continue developing and testing its ballistic missile capability.

Missile defense naysayer Philip E. Coyle III said, “The advocates [of missile defense] want to scare people, so they hype the threat.”

Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance president Riki Ellison said, “North Korea has successfully tested a long-range ballistic missile. This success coupled with the North Korean nuclear weapons makes North Korea a nuclear threat.” (NYT)

ABL>> The Missile Defense Agency announced that the Airborne Laser (ABL) prototype aircraft achieved flight certification last week as it returned to Edwards Air Force Base. Called a critical milestone, the ABL integrated aboard a 747 aircraft will provide “speed of light capability” against missiles in the boost phase and other missions. (MDA)

>> RIA Novosti reports that Turkey, a member of NATO, wants to buy S-400 Triumf air defense systems from Russia. An unnamed source implied such a sale would be complicated. NATO and Russia don’t see eye-to-eye on U.S. plans to build missile defense shields in Poland and the Czech Republic.

“We have explained to Turkish officials that S-400 is not just a simple air defense system but an element of strategic missile defenses, which can be placed in one country but protect the airspace over a number of neighboring countries,” he said. (RIA Novosti)

>> Israel has agreed to supply India with missile defense technology in an effort to boost strategic ties between the two countries. Both countries face missile threats from Muslim countries. India will receive Barak ground-to-air missiles from Israel. (ISN)

Kim Holmes on Missile Defense Cuts

April 20th, 2009

Kim HolmesThe Heritage Foundation’s Kim Holmes wrote an article for the Washington Times in which he asks the question, “Why cut missile defense now?”

About the proposed $1.4 billion cut in the missile defense budget, Holmes writes:

“It’s being done in the name of ‘restructuring’ the missile-defense program. The administration is holding on to defenses against short-range missiles, while scaling back programs against long-range missiles – the kind North Korea and Iran recently tested.

“This makes no sense. Defenses against short-range missiles are all very fine, but they are not the missiles that most threaten the United States. That would be North Korea’s Taepodong-2 missiles tested April 5, which when fully deployed, could reach Alaska and California.

“One target of the cuts is the Airborne Laser (ABL), an energy-directed weapon placed on a modified Boeing 747-400. The ABL is intended to knock down a long-range missile shortly after it leaves the launchpad – the best time for an intercept because its warheads have not yet been deployed in space.”

Holmes also wonders why the Pentagon decided to turn its back on the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV), which would destroy missiles in space. Along with the Space Tracking and Surveillance System sensor program, the MKV could effectively neutralize our enemies’ abilities to succeed in causing mass destruction.

Holmes puts the missile defense cut in perspective:

“It would be understandable if we couldn’t afford missile defenses,” he writes. “But that is clearly not the case. The $1.4 billion cut from the missile defense budget is 0.04 percent of the overall proposed federal budget. It’s like a rounding error in an Obama bailout…The roughly $10 billion we spend annually on all of missile defense amounts to only 13 percent of what local, state and federal government agencies pay for ‘first responders.'”

President Barack Obama would do well to know that appeasement and “dialogue” didn’t stop North Korea from launching a rocket, and nothing short of comprehensive missile defense will protect the U.S. and its allies from rogue nations.

The Heritage Foundation blog also comments on Holmes’s op-ed.

U.S. and India Working Together on Laser Missile Defense

January 29th, 2009

Lisa CurtisThe Heritage Foundation‘s Lisa Curtis and James Carafano have written an article that appears on FrontPage Magazine about directed-energy (laser) missile defense and cooperation between the U.S. and India in developing this technology.

“The United States is a global leader in directed-energy defenses, including both low and high-powered lasers,” they write. “American military research is also highly advanced in the technologies of acquiring targets as well as the command, control, and battle management systems necessary to identify and direct weapons to destroy missiles and other targets.”

Curtis and Carafano note the versatility of both low- and high-powered lasers, which can neutralize ballistic missile threats from a range of sources. In lieu of a full-scale retaliation, high-powered lasers can limit the scope of reprisals and contain the inevitable damage.

Whether or not we’re forced to use these weapons, having them provides a security of its own. “A world with effective missile defenses is safer and more stable.”

The U.S. is developing a system that uses a megawatt chemical laser mounted on a modified Boeing 747 called the Airborne Laser (ABL). The ABL is capable of shooting down theater ballistic missiles. Cooperation between the U.S. and India as they develop laser missile defense technology will no doubt help stabilize Asia as well as secure our homeland.

Read the rest at FrontPage Magazine.

MDA Successfully Fires Laser

September 10th, 2008

MDA sealThe Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced that the megawatt-class Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) of the Airborne Laser (ABL) program fired successfully earlier this week (press release in PDF).
Fired into an onboard calorimeter, COIL’s success marked the integration of the High Energy Laser aboard the modified 747-400 aircraft. The positive result will lead to more ground testing of the laser for a longer lasing duration. From the press release:
“ABL is being developed as a future element of the nation’s ballistic missile defense system, and the first to use directed energy to destroy ballistic missiles in their ‘boost’ phase of flight. Although significant work remains before flight tests can begin, this phase of COIL testing represents a major step toward the ABL program’s planned lethal demonstration against a boosting missile in 2009.”