New Solid-State Laser Developed For Airborne Laser Program



(Source : Lockheed Martin ; issued March 30, 2001)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif.---Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company today announced that its subcontractor, Raytheon Electronic Systems, has achieved a crucial milestone in the development of the Beam Control/Fire Control system for the U.S. Air Force's Airborne Laser (ABL) program. The Beam Control/Fire Control system will aim and fire a high-energy laser at a target missile in its boost phase.

Raytheon conducted a "first light" test of the Track Illuminator Laser (TILL) one week ahead of schedule at its High Energy Laser Center in El Segundo, Calif. The TILL, one of four critical lasers to the Airborne Laser Program, is the first solid-state laser to achieve this milestone.

"The 'first light' test is significant because the TILL is the heart of the Beam Control/Fire Control system. This is a brand new technology and the test proves the design is valid," said Lockheed Martin ABL Program Manager Paul Shattuck.

This laser is an integral part of the Beam Control/Fire Control system and will project rapid, powerful pulses of light on a small section of a boosting target missile. The light will be reflected back to an extremely sensitive camera. The reflected light data is interpreted as information about the target's speed, elevation and probable point of impact.

"For the ABL program we pushed both sides of the equation — a more sensitive sensor and a more powerful illuminator laser," said Shattuck. "This reduced the development risk because the components can compensate for each other," he said.

Raytheon's test showed that the TILL should have plenty of power to meet the signal needs of the system. According to Lockheed Martin Chief Systems Engineer Marya Andrepont, the test is a significant step in proving the technology. "We were expecting the laser to run for a few seconds, and they ran it for 30 minutes. I have great confidence that Raytheon will deliver a laser module that meets our needs," she said.

Lockheed Martin is part of an industry-government team that is developing the revolutionary ABL weapon system. Team ABL includes the Air Force, Boeing, TRW and Lockheed Martin. Boeing is the team lead for weapon system integration, and supplies the 747-400 freighter aircraft and the battle management, command and control system. TRW provides the high-energy laser, which is a chemical-oxygen-iodine laser. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is designing, developing, and building the Beam Control/Fire Control system, which will acquire the target, then accurately point and fire the laser with sufficient energy to destroy a missile while it is still in the boost phase.

The TILL is scheduled to be delivered later this year to Lockheed Martin's Beam Control/Fire Control Integration and Test Facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. The TILL will be integrated with the remainder of the beam transfer optics early next year, and followed by an end-to-end test of the Beam Control/Fire Control system.

Once modifications to the 747-400 aircraft are completed at Boeing's plant in Wichita, Kan., and the battle management has been installed, the plane will be flown to Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster, Calif. The beam control system and the lasers will be installed there.

Flight tests, expected to begin early next year, will be conducted with each system separately, then with the system as a whole.

The Airborne Laser will be the world's first boost-phase defense against theater ballistic missiles of the type that were used against U.S. troops during the Gulf War. Unlike ground-based systems, ABL will operate from hundreds of miles away and will be able to lock onto enemy missiles shortly after they lift off. ABL will fire an intense beam of heat that causes the missile's skin to rupture and its fuel to gush and explode. Since the missiles are still rising, the warheads will fall onto or near the enemy's territory.

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