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Airborne Laser

The modern U.S. military has a huge range of high tech weapons in its arsenal. From robotic reconnaissance drones to stealth bombers invisible to radar, it is the most formidable force in the world. Then came the ABL (Airborne Laser), which completely revolutionized warfare.

This weapon is a megawatt chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) mounted on a modified Boeing 747-400F. It weighs 6 500 pounds (3 000 kg) and the laser’s main purpose is to defend against incoming tactical ballistic missiles (TBM). The aircraft was designated YAL-1A in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Defense and has successfully passed several tests, including the shooting down of a simulated missile in 2009.

How does it Work?

The YAL-1A does not destroy the target directly but heats the missile skin, weakening it so as to cause failure from high speed flight stress.

Other Targets?

The ABL could be used against fighter aircraft, cruise missiles, and even low-earth-orbit satellites but with less efficiency as it is not what the laser was primarily designed to do.

The use of the ABL on ground targets is highly unlikely as the beam weakens when it passes through the atmosphere and armoured vehicles such as tanks are unaffected by a megawatt-class laser.

Future of the ABL…

The ABL, originally set to enter service in 2008, was delayed by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ new military budget. However, when the ABL proves its worth it to the politicians, 7 ABL-armed 747s will be built and assigned to two combat theatres.

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