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Air Force needs $38M to keep Airborne Laser program on track

01/05/01 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) - Air Force officials said Jan. 5 they will request congressional approval to reprogram $38 million in fiscal 2001 funds to keep the Airborne Laser program, the world's first laser-armed combat aircraft, on track for a live-fire demonstration in 2003.

The money is needed to cover contractor tasks that must be conducted now but are not budgeted for until later years, officials said. The extra funds will also cover unforeseen technical adjustments that arose during the program's current development phase.

Additionally, the ABL contractor team of Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and TRW will each contribute $20 million this year with the expectation that the Air Force will reimburse them next year.

"This program is too important and we intend to keep the program on track for its 2003 missile shoot-down," said Gen. Michael Ryan, Air Force chief of staff.

The ABL is scheduled to shoot down its first missile in a test over the Pacific Ocean in late 2003. The extra funds will be used to help ensure the program meets this schedule.

The project will be set back 15 to 20 months if the money is not reprogrammed, said ABL Col. Ellen M. Pawlikowski, program director.

Although the program has seen technical challenges typical of the type most programs encounter when they move from paper design to production and integration, it has encountered no "show-stoppers," and has met or exceeded every technical requirement.

"I'm delighted with the Air Force and contractor team decisions," Pawlikowski said. "It demonstrates the confidence the Air Force has in our program and reflects the value our leaders place on developing a system designed to protect the American troops in the field from theater ballistic missile attacks."

The ABL program in its current configuration began in November 1996 when the Air Force awarded $1.1 billion to the three contractors to build the system. Boeing is currently developing the software to power the battle management system of a modified 747-400 freighter, while TRW builds the multimegawatt chemical oxygen-iodine laser, and Lockheed-Martin builds the optical system, which includes a 1.5 meter telescope that serves as the lens for the laser beam.