ABL Missile Shoot-down Expected in Early 2010

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Development troubles and range conflicts prevented the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA)’s Airborne Laser (ABL) system from conducting its first ballistic missile shoot-down attempt in 2009, and the test is now planned for early 2010, an agency representative said.

With its high-power chemical laser installed, the modified 747 aircraft returned to flight in June 2009 for what was expected to be a nine-month test campaign that included at least two attempts to shoot down ballistic missile targets, the first of which was planned for September 2009. The first shoot-down attempt was delayed as early flight tests found the need for additional “validation and verification testing and adjustments,” MDA spokeswoman Debra Christman said in a Dec. 10 e-mailed response to questions. Some of the sensors needed for the test at the missile range were also not available last year, she said.

“[The] bottom line is that the lethal demonstration against a ballistic missile target will take place when it has been determined that the test is ready to take place,” Christman said.

Until 2009, the MDA had been developing ABL to become an operational system for shooting down ballistic missiles in their early boost stage, when they are most vulnerable and easiest to detect. Questions about ABL’s technological readiness and operational utility caused the Defense Department to scale back the program to a research and development effort in its 2010 budget request. Congress provided $183.3 million for ABL in 2010, $3.4 million less than the MDA requested.