A Boeing-led team of defense contractors has shot down a ballistic missile shortly after launch in a test off the Southern California coast.
The team fired the high-energy laser from a modified Boeing 747-400F aircraft as the missile rose from its launchpad off the coast Thursday.
The test was the first time that an airborne laser weapon has engaged a ballistic missile in flight.
Mounted in the jumbo jet, the weapons system uses lower-powered lasers to locate and adjust the targeting on the missile as it rises from its pad, then the high-powered laser, focused through a lens in the 747′s nose, focuses on the moving missile, heating up its contents and destroying it within two minutes.
Boeing is teamed with Northrop Grumman, which built the laser, and Lockheed Martin, which developed the beam control and firing system, to create the anti-missile system.
The Defense Department, which once contemplated building seven of the laser-equipped missile killers, recently cut the program back to a single example.
While Boeing and its partners in recent months have been proving the system’s effectiveness against airborne and ground targets, some skeptics believe the system’s weak point is that the laser system must be airborne and relatively near the launch site for it to be effective.