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Air Force News

Crew gathers critical data for airborne laser program

Released: 18 Feb 2000


by Staff Sgt. Karin Wickwire
51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea (AFPN) -- Preparations for future warfighting are happening now as a C-135E aircraft from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., flies sorties from here to gather atmospheric measurements vital to the Airborne Laser program.

Once operational, the ABL's primary mission will be to destroy theater ballistic missiles during their boost phase, which occurs during initial liftoff.

How will the ABL work? According to Maj. Pedro Oms, Airborne Laser System Program Office deputy director, management operations, at Kirtland, the system fires a laser with enough power to cause a 12-inch crack to form on a missile's housing. Once the crack occurs, internal engine pressure forces the missile to explode.

This ability to stop a missile during the boost phase offers two advantages over some current weapons used to destroy airborne missiles.

First, it can serve as a countermeasure. "By killing a missile in the boost phase, it could easily fall (back) down on the enemy, providing a very effective countermeasure when you're talking about mass destruction weapons," Oms said.

The second advantage is cost. "It costs only $3,000 to use the ABL to destroy a TBM as opposed to the $1 million plus for one Patriot (air and missile defense weapon)," the major added.

In addition to its primary role, the ABL system will have four secondary roles -- providing early TBM launch warning, identifying the launch site location, identifying the impact point location and cueing other theater missile defense systems, such as the Patriots, he said.

But in order to do its priority job, the ABL must be able to fire a laser beam with enough power and focus to destroy TBMs. To fire the laser accurately, the system must account for and adjust to disturbances in the atmosphere that could cause the laser to lose focus or power, rendering it ineffective, Oms explained.

That's where the C-135E, which is operated by Detachment 2 from Kirtland, comes into play. An aircrew from the detachment -- which actually belongs to the 452nd Flight Test Squadron from Edwards AFB, Calif. -- and ABL members have been measuring atmospheric distortion over the Korean peninsula to ensure the ABL can be effective here in case war ever happens.

Even though the first ABL operational system is still some years away, by taking measurements now, the Air Force is building a database that provides guidance on what atmospheric conditions can be expected and what the ABL's range should be during different seasons in the various theaters, Oms said.

RELATED SITES

* Airborne Laser
* Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
* Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
* Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea