Laser knocks down test missile off Calif. coast

Laser knocks down test missile off Calif. coast
Airborne Laser Test. Image credit: U.S. Department of Defense

The Air Force says a high-powered laser has destroyed a missile in flight during a test of a national defense system off the California coast.

The successful test is a boost to a program that has had billions in cost overruns and saw its budget sharply cut by the last year.

The Air Force and Boeing Co. announced Friday that an airborne laser system tracked a target missile as it accelerated over the ocean off the Point Mugu Naval Warfare Center on Thursday night. The Air Force says an energy beam heated the missile until it broke up.

It's the first time the laser has knocked down a liquid-fueled missile. The says it destroyed a solid-fuel during a test on Feb. 3.

Laser knocks down test missile off Calif. coast
This airborne laser mounts to the front of a special military 747 jumbo jet.

Explore further

Missile defense test aborted when target fails

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: Laser knocks down test missile off Calif. coast (2010, February 14) retrieved 20 August 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Feb 14, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Feb 14, 2010
"Does anyone know if solid fuel rockets are more susceptible to laser damage than liquid fuel?"

From ABL wiki:

"The ABL does not burn through or disintegrate its target. It heats the missile skin, weakening it, causing failure from high speed flight stress."

"On February 11, 2010 in a test at Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range off the central California coast, the system successfully destroyed a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile. Less than one hour later, the system successfully engaged a solid-fuel short-range missile launched from San Nicolas Island, California. Test criteria were met and the second test was ended prior to target destruction since the system had destroyed an identical solid-fuel missile in flight eight days earlier."

So it works equally well on solid or liquid fueled missiles.

Feb 14, 2010
Wouldn't it be easier to throw a rock?

No, but maybe a rockhead would work.

Feb 15, 2010
"Big applause and fanfare!"

Now try the same, but with the missile painted WHITE instead of BLACK! ^^

And the next step could be a missile with a mirror-like polished stainless steel outer layer ;-)

Feb 15, 2010
How about one with a cat-eye design scaled to the frequency of the laser? Would throw the beam right back at 'em

Feb 15, 2010
What would be the effects of a megawatt energy laser applied to, say, the human body? A crowd of human bodies? Wood? Occupied military or civilian vehicles?

Feb 15, 2010
Next up: dummy missiles with adjustable mirrors for beam reflection. Perhaps even equipped with an extra outer layer of hull with channels between which may transport liquid nitrogen. Or what the hell, how about just a regular missile with the same liquid nitrogen contraption? It could be triggered above a certain temperature to release instantly, allowing it to cool off for the required amount of time before it hits the target. That plus the mirror-like polished stainless steel which daywalk3r suggested. It would be fun to compete against these guys in parallel. As they build a more sophisticated laser, your team builds a more sophisticated anti-laser missile.

Feb 15, 2010
I bet it wasn't polished metal, nor spinning

Feb 16, 2010
Ever get the feeling your tax dollars are being wasted?

All the time. However, if my tax dollars are being spent to develop multi-purpose lasers, where do I sign up to give more?

Feb 16, 2010
Heh, I got censored by PhysOrg for saying "Wouldn't it be easier to throw a rock?" Reason: "POINTLESS VERBIAGE" (their capitals not mine). Luckily other readers were intelligent enough to discern the point: that the technology for laser-based knock downs is excessively expensive and energy intensive when other simpler technology would be just as effective.

Feb 17, 2010
Wouldn't it be easier to throw a rock?

Such 'rocks' are called kinetic warheads.
It would be easier if such rocks could be located near the launch site. Do you think if we ask nicely Iran would allow a THAAD battery next to their ballistic missiles?

Can't seem to get this. Wouldn't we need such 'kinetic warheads' at the target site? As soon as you something incoming, throw a rock!

Feb 21, 2010
I bet it wasn't polished metal, nor spinning

Have you ever seen a missile that didn't spin?

Feb 22, 2010
Mirror-polished stainless steel wouldn't help, since the ABL works at the infrared end of the visible spectrum* where stainless steel is not a particularly good reflector. Same for aluminum, although I have worked with specially coated aluminum which is highly reflective down into the infrared. However, I'm not sure that such coatings could survive launch.

As for spinning, LN2 and other proposals here, remember what happened with the Patriot against SCUD variants. It turned out that disrupting the shock wave around a reentering SCUD was enough to knock it into self-destruction without physically hitting the missle or warhead. Some shock wave disruption occurs with the ABL. May not knock down a missle designed to handle it, but it certainly makes the designer's job much tougher.

* I can see deeper at the red end of the spectrum than most. But the COIL in ABL produces 1315 nm light which should be lower than what I can see.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more