February 3, 2010: Testing of YAL-1 Airborne Laser Test Bed

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  • Air force Flight Test Center

The recently redesignated YAL-1 Airborne Laser Test Bed’s (ALTB’s) infrared sensors detected a solid-fuel ballistic missile during its boost phase within seconds after launch over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare-Weapons Division Sea Range. The ALTB’s battle management system issued engagement and target location instructions to the beam control/fire control system and its low-energy solid-state lasers tracked the target and measured atmospheric conditions to compensate for any disturbances. Then the megawatt-class COIL fired its beam which heated the target missile’s surface causing it to fail. This marked the first time in history that an airborne directed energy weapon was used to destroy any kind of ballistic missile in flight and the first time any system had destroyed one during the boost phase shortly after launch.

The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed (formerly Airborne Laser) weapons system was a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) mounted inside a modified military aircraft same as the Boeing 747-400F. It was primarily designed as a missile defense system to destroy tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) while in boost phase. The aircraft was designated YAL-1A in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Defense.  The YAL-1 with a low-power laser was test-fired in flight at an airborne target in 2007.  A high-energy laser was used to intercept a test target in January 2010, and the following month, successfully destroyed two test missiles.  Funding for the program was cut in 2010 and the program was canceled in December 2011.  It made its final flight on February 14, 2011 to Davis–Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona to be kept in storage at the "Boneyard" by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. It was ultimately scrapped in September 2014 after all usable parts were removed.

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