We’re one step closer to living in a Flash Gordon serial, New Scientist reports, as engineers prepare to unleash a brilliant barrage of airborne death with fleets of flying lasers:
Although the Airborne Laser (ABL) was fired from a stationary plane at a target on the ground just a few metres away, the test marked a milestone for the weapon, developed by aerospace firms Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
The laser was 12 years in the making and cost $4.3 billion, putting it vastly over budget. The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) calls it the answer to “rogue states” or terror groups who equip themselves with intercontinental ballistic missiles, such as Scuds.
Yet the ABL may soon be used to shoot down a much wider range of devices – including aircraft – and is just one of a number of laser weapons now being readied for military use.
The idea behind the ABL programme is that at times of international tension, the airborne weapons will patrol the skies within hundreds of kilometres of the missile silos or launchers of a region of interest. Then, if the heat signature of a rocket launch is detected via satellite or an early warning aircraft, the ABL will track it and fire its laser at the missile while the latter is still getting off the ground and beginning to accelerate. In theory, the heat from what Boeing calls the “megawatt class” laser beam – the precise power level is classified – should cause the pressurised part of the missile to warp, bend and buckle, resulting in the missile’s complete disintegration.