REDONDO BEACH, Calif., Feb. 12, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) transitioned from science fiction to directed energy fact Feb. 11 when it put a lethal amount of 'light on target' to destroy a boosting ballistic missile with help from a megawatt-class laser developed by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC).
While ballistic missiles like the one ALTB destroyed move at speeds of about 4,000 miles per hour, they are no match for a super-heated, high-energy laser beam racing towards it at 670 million mph. The basketball-sized beam was focused on the foreign military asset, as the missile is called officially, for only a few seconds before a stress fracture developed, causing the target to catastrophically split into multiple pieces.
"This experiment shows the incredible potential for directed energy as a premier element in early or ascent phase missile defense," said Steve Hixson, vice president of Space and Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector. "The demonstration leaves no doubt whatsoever about ALTB's unprecedented mobility, precision and lethality," he added. Hixson is a former ALTB program manager for the company.
Northrop Grumman executives said the high-energy Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser the company provides – the most powerful laser ever developed for an airborne environment – performed reliably once again with other critical capabilities onboard the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's ALTB. This includes the low-power, solid-state Beacon Illuminator Laser for atmospheric compensation, a targeting laser Northrop Grumman also supplies for the ALTB system.
"The continued dependable and consistent performance of both laser systems is the result of our dedicated team and its unwavering commitment to develop game-changing technology for our military forces," said Guy Renard, Northrop Grumman's ALTB program manager. "The impressive progress made by the government and industry team during the last three-and-a-half years could not have culminated any more dramatically than this successful experiment."
The experiment, a proof-of-concept demonstration, was the first directed energy lethal intercept demonstration against a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile target from an airborne platform.
Northrop Grumman is under contract to The Boeing Company, ALTB's prime contractor, for the two laser systems. The ALTB is a modified Boeing 747-400F whose back half holds the high-energy laser. The front section of the aircraft contains the beam control/fire control system, developed by Lockheed Martin, and the battle management system, provided by Boeing.
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide.