Academic journal article Aerospace Power Journal

Airborne Laser: Bullets of Light

Academic journal article Aerospace Power Journal

Airborne Laser: Bullets of Light

Article excerpt

Airborne Laser: Bullets of Light by Robert W. Duffner. Plenum Publishers (http://www.wkap. nl), 233 Spring Street, New York, New York 10013-1578, 1997, 398 pages, $34.95.

Before the Air Force even conceived of the airborne laser (ABL), Air Force personnel, contractors, and scientists worked at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, to develop a laser capable of shooting down a missile. Robert Duffner's well-documented history mixes physics and personal accounts to trace the development of military lasers from 1958. The task, then as today, was to develop a weapon that could destroy a missile in flight. Doing so required not only a powerful laser but also a tracking mechanism to keep a beam focused on a rapidly moving object. All pieces of such a system were developed at Kirtland over a period of 30 years.

Following the proposal to develop the ABL, the next two decades were spent perfecting chemicals and optics that would make such a device possible. In 1969 Gen John Ryan, chief of staff of the Air Force, authorized an increase in funding and paved the way for feasibility demonstrations since the project showed promise. Hans Mark, secretary of the Air Force, and Harold Brown, secretary of defense, also backed the program.

After more development work, most components of a ground-based test-laser assembly were fitted into an NKC-135 airborne laser lab (ALL). A second KC-135 was modified to act as the diagnostic aircraft, which would receive telemetric data from the ALL and targets. …

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