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Major assembly begins for first 747-400F airborne laser

Released: 11 Aug 1999


EVERETT, Wash. (AFPN) -- Air Force and industry officials helped a Boeing-led industry team kick off the start of major assembly for the first Airborne Laser flying platform -- a 747-400 freighter -- at the Boeing assembly plant here.

Work began Aug. 10 on the freighter's main-deck floor grids, signaling the beginning of major assembly on the airborne laser platform. Next week, major assembly begins on the wings, and the following week, work continues on the airplane's body sections.

This initial airborne laser aircraft is the first to be acquired for Air Force use under the military's new commercial "off-the-shelf" philosophy. The plane also is the third Boeing 747-400 to use a new fuselage assembly process that significantly improves quality, reduces rejection tags and cycle time.

"I'm impressed with team ABL's progress; the design is rock-solid and the technology proven," said Dr. Lawrence Delaney, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. "The airborne laser is on track to be on the leading edge of theater missile defense."

"Boeing has made ABL one of its top corporate commitments," said Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing Space and Communications Group. "Team ABL is an excellent example of doing business better and smarter by leveraging diverse technical expertise across industry to develop a remarkable system that will help maintain the peace."

As ABL leader, Boeing is responsible for creating the airborne laser surveillance system; developing the battle management and command-and-control system; integrating the weapon system; and supplying the 747-400 freighter airplane. Team member Lockheed Martin is developing the beam control/fire control system, and TRW is providing the chemical oxygen iodine laser and ground support.

"It is gratifying to see that real partnership produces real results," said Paul Shennum, Boeing vice president and ABL team program director. "This contract was awarded in late 1996, and today we are marking the beginning of major manufacturing of the 747-400 platform for the first airborne laser.

"This is a real tribute to teamwork, to small teams, innovative ideas and hands-off leadership," Shennum continued. "We're building a great system that will give Americans a defense for the first time against theater ballistic missiles."

Air Force plans call for a fleet of seven airborne laser aircraft to be ready for rapid deployment within 24 hours to any spot around the globe. The fleet's mission is to deter potential use of theater ballistic missiles. More than 30 nations today are believed to have at their disposal more than 13,000 of those missiles. Many of those countries also are known to have or been developing nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities for their missiles.

This aircraft, with an identification number of 00-0001, will be the first Air Force aircraft of the new millennium. The 747-400 freighter is scheduled to roll out from the Everett assembly line in December 1999. It then will be delivered to Wichita, Kan., for an 18-month modification program.

During the preliminary design and risk reduction phase, the industry team is designing, developing, integrating and testing the airborne laser system. The effort will culminate with the planned test destruction of Scud-type missiles by the airborne laser in 2003.

A ground and flight test program begins in 2001 and continues through 2003 with a lengthy series of tests of the system against representative missiles.

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* Dr. Lawrence Delaney