Video: Laser Jet Blasts Ballistic Missile in Landmark Test

By Noah Shachtman
February 12, 2010

The American military has been working since 1996 on a tricked-out 747 that could blast ballistic missiles out of the sky with a ultra-powerful laser. After 14 years of promising “the American people their first light saber,” the Missile Defense Agency finally pulled it off Thursday night at 8:44 p.m

It’s one of a number of steps forward for real-life ray guns in the past year or so. “Solid state” electric lasers finally hit what’s commonly considered battlefield strength. A laser-equipped Air Force gunship disabled a truck with its energy beam. A ground-mounted ray gun blasted drones out of the sky. But all of those energy weapons were weak — and the engineering challenges limited — compared to last night’s shoot-down.

A short-range, Scud-like ballistic missile was launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform near the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center, off of the central California coast. “Within seconds, the Airborne Laser Test Bed [ALTB] used on-board sensors to detect the boosting missile and used a low-energy laser to track the target. The ALTB then fired a second low-energy laser to measure and compensate for atmospheric disturbance. Finally, the ALTB fired its megawatt-class High Energy Laser, heating the boosting ballistic missile to critical structural failure. The entire engagement occurred within two minutes of the target missile launch, while its rocket motors were still thrusting,” according to a statement from the Missile Defense Agency.

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