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Boeing YAL-1 - Airborne Laser

New system allows the U.S. Air Force to intercept ballistic missiles.

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Boeing YAL-1 - Airborne Laser

The U.S. military is experimenting with airborne lasers to shoot down ballistic missiles fired in combat.

Modified 747 Aircraft

The U.S. Air Force has been testing the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser, which has been developed to target and destroy Tactical Ballistic Missiles. The weapon system uses a Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser that has been affixed to the nose of a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. Once targeted, the laser system heats a ballistic missile from the inside out and causes it to explode. Tests have shown that the YAL-1 system is capable of shooting down a missile within 10 seconds from a distance of several hundred miles.

The U.S. Air Force first tested the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser in 2002. Several more tests were conducted in 2007 and 2010. In the tests, the laser system successfully identified and destroyed several incoming missiles. The system has attracted a lot of attention from defense and security experts who see it as a way to protect U.S. soldiers and, potentially, U.S. territory from attacks by ballistic missiles. Some defense experts predict that a laser system similar to the Boeing YAL-1 could be developed and used in the future against enemy fighter jets, satellites and cruise missiles.

Over Budget

The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser system is being developed by a consortium of leading defense contractors that includes Boeing Defense, Space & Security, Lockheed Martin Corp., and Northrop Grumman Corp. Despite the initial success of the tests involving the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser, the advanced program has gone more than $6 billion over budget. As of late 2010 the U.S. Air Force has not requested additional funding for the project or scheduled more tests of the system.

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