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  • Gates: Scrap 2nd ABL
Apr 2009
ARLINGTON, Va., April 6, 2009 -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is recommending that a second Airborne Laser (ABL) prototype aircraft be scrapped and the program be shifted to a research and development effort as part of a plan to reduce the Missile Defense Agency budget by $1.4 billion. Gates made the announcement Monday as he outlined his recommendations to the president regarding the 2010 defense budget.

"The ABL program has significant affordability and technology problems and the program’s proposed operational role is highly questionable," Gates said in making the recommendation.

The ABL program, overseen by Boeing (aircraft, systems integration and testing) with contributions from Northrop Grumman (laser) and Lockheed Martin (beam control/fire control system), uses two solid-state lasers and a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) housed aboard a modified Boeing 747-400F airplane to destroy ballistic missiles shortly after their launch.
Artist's impression of the Airborne Laser system in operation. (Image courtesy The Boeing Co.)
In March, Kansas Republican senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts and South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune sent Gates a letter urging full funding in the FY10 budget of the Airborne Laser program.

"The ABL is America's premier directed energy effort and represents not only a tremendous potential for our nation's warfighters, but also for maintaining America's technological edge. It is critical to the future of our national security capabilities," the senators wrote.

The program began during the Clinton administration and is eight years behind schedule and $4 billion over budget. Last month, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), a top member of the House Armed Services Committee, called the program "the definition of insanity. "You keep doing the wrong thing over and over and don't learn from it."
Multiple Kill Vehicle-L Hover Test on Dec. 2, 2008 (Photo: US Missile Defense Agency/US Air Force)
Gates also recommends terminating the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program under prime contractor Lockheed Martin. In the event of an enemy ballistic missile launch, one interceptor equipped with the MKV could presumably destroy not only the reentry vehicle but all other credible threat objects, including countermeasures the enemy deploys to try to spoof the system.

Also under missile defense, Gates said he doesn't want to increase the number of ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska, as had been planned, but continue to "robustly" fund research and development to improve the capability the US already has to defend against long-range rogue missile threats, such as the one demonstrated by North Korea's missile launch last weekend.

Gates also recommends:
  • The termination of the VH-71 presidential helicopter, a program originally designed to provide 23 helicopters at a cost of $6.5 billion. The program is six years behind schedule and its budget estimate has doubled;
  • Termination of the Air Force Combat Search and Rescue X (CSAR-X) helicopter program, which Gates called "yet another single-service solution with single-purpose aircraft;"
  • Termination of the $26 billion Transformational Satellite (TSAT) program, with two more advanced extremely high frequency satellites being bought instead;
  • The significant restructuring of the Army's Future Combat Systems program, which was developed nine years ago and doesn't include a role for the recent $25 billion investment in the MRAP vehicles performing well in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates recommends canceling the vehicle component, then relaunching it through a competitive bidding process.
    "The perennial procurement and contracting cycle – going back many decades – of adding layer upon layer of cost and complexity onto fewer and fewer platforms that take longer and longer to build must come to an end. There have been enough studies. Enough hand-wringing. Enough rhetoric. Now is the time for action," Gates said.

    The White House still has to submit a completed 2010 defense budget to Congress.

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    1. A bundle of light rays that may be parallel, converging or diverging. 2. A concentrated, unidirectional stream of particles. 3. A concentrated, unidirectional flow of electromagnetic waves.
    The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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