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Title: The Airborne Laser - A Revolution in Military Affairs

Subject: The Airborne Laser is a weapon currently under development to counter the threat of theater ballistic missiles. The method of employment and the portion of the theater missile defense mission to be performed by the ABL are yet to be determined.

Author(s): Gerald W Wirsig; Diane Fischer (Faculty Advisor)

DTIC Keywords: ANTIMISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEMS, BALLISTIC MISSILE INTERCEPT SYSTEMS, CHEMICAL LASERS, DIRECTED ENERGY WEAPONS, GAS LASERS, GUIDED MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEMS, HIGH ENERGY LASERS, LASER APPLICATIONS, OXYGEN IODINE LASERS, SURFACE TO SURFACE MISSILES, ULTRAVIOLET LASERS

Abstract: The theater ballistic missile (TBM) problem encountered in the Persian Gulf War revealed an alarming deficiency in US defenses. This paper takes a brief look at the major theater missile defense (TMD) systems in use and under development by the US today. Second, it focuses on the performance of the Army's Patriot defense system in the Gulf War. Finally, the paper offers an in-depth look at the development of the Airborne Laser (ABL) and how it should fit into an overall national structure for TMD.

The paper concludes that Patriot performance in the Gulf war was unsatisfactory, not just because of system flaws, but because of the concept of point defense itself. The ABL provides a unique solution to collateral damage inherent in point defense concepts. In addition, the ABL can provide advanced warning to other theater defense systems in the event of a mass launch which could overtax the ABL's capabilities.

The paper offers several recommendations for the future direction of TMD. First, phase out point defense completely and channel those funds into development of the other TMD systems which minimize collateral damage to the assets they are intended to protect. Second, expedite development of the ABL as the first line of TMD, backed up by long-range theater systems. Third, continue to develop true theater defense systems; that is, systems which have a range of hundreds of kilometers such as the Navy's Aegis and the Army's THAAD systems, preventing TBMs from getting close to their intended target.



Last updated 1998 Mar 12