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  • ABL Talk Draws CLEO Crowd
Jun 2009
BALTIMORE, Md., June 9, 2009 – Closing out the CLEO PhAST Track session titled, “Defense Applications of Lasers and Electro-optics Technology,” was a presentation about the Airborne Laser (ABL) Program.

Having been in recent news due to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ recommendation to reduce the Missile Defense Agency’s budget by $1.4 billion, the ABL talk was particularly well attended.

During the 30 minute session Steve Post of the Missile Defense Agency offered an overview of the program, describing mission objectives, weapon system elements and program progression.

The ABL program, which began during the Clinton administration, is a converted 747-400F jumbo jet that uses two solid-state lasers and a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) to target and destroy ballistic missiles.

As part of the plan to reduce the budget for fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1, Defense Secretary Gates recommended that funding for the Missile Defense Agency be cut by $1.4 billion. Gates recommended that the second ABL prototype (Tail 2) be scrapped and Tail 1 be moved to research and development (R&D) status.

“From a personal perspective I’m glad that happened,” said Post, explaining that the recent status change shows the difficulty of the project.

“As an R&D program the primary thrust is to look at where we are today and improve on Tail 1,” said Post. “We need to look at modifications to the current aircraft.”

In making the recommendation to scrap Tail 2, Gates was quoted as saying, “The ABL program has significant affordability and technology problems and the program’s proposed operational role is highly questionable.”

The ABL program, which is overseen by Boeing with contributions from Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, is scheduled to undergo a series of tests this summer and will conduct its first missile shoot down test in September 2009.

There has been staunch opposition to the status change of the program, particularly from lawmakers who must give approval to the budget plan, the Washington Times reported.

A bipartisan group of US senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama opposing the budget cuts.

“These proposals would amount to almost a 15 percent cut in the [Missile Defense Agency] budget and a major reduction in our missile defense portfolio - actions that we fear could undermine our emerging missile defense capabilities to protect the United States against a growing threat,” said the letter, which was signed by Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security; Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican; Mark Begich, Alaska Democrat; Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican; Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican; and James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.

“North Korea's launch of a long-range ballistic missile should be a clarion wake-up call to the whole world that this is not the time to diminish our missile-defense budget, as proposed by the Obama administration,” Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, said in a statement.

However, according to the report, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee for president last year, issued a statement backing the cuts.

“I strongly support Secretary Gates' decision to restructure a number of major defense programs,” he said. “It has long been necessary to shift spending away from weapon systems plagued by scheduling and cost overruns to ones that strike the correct balance between the needs of our deployed forces and the requirements for meeting the emerging threats of tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, amidst debate, a June 8, 2009 press release on US Senator Sam Brownback’s website states the Missile Defense Agency conducted a successful test of the ABL tracking system over the weekend.

“The ABL continues to make history,” Brownback said. “Last Saturday, for the first time, a boosting missile was tracked by lasers able to compensate for atmospheric conditions and remain locked on target for an extended period of time.”

The successful test was conducted this past weekend while the plane was in flight and was able to continuously track a launched missile.

On May 7, 2009, President Barack Obama submitted to Congress a proposed total defense budget of $663.8 billion for fiscal 2010. The overall FY 2010 defense budget is a $1.3 billion increase (0.2%) from the total FY 2009 defense budget ($662 billion).

Krista D. Zanolli

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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