EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE – After a year of ground tests, a laser weapon is approaching performance levels capable of destroying an enemy missile in flight, defense officials said. If the military can get the weapon to work well enough for service, it will be installed into a highly modified Boeing 747-400 freighter. The laser would then be tested against actual missiles. “Our goal is shoot down a boosting ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean in late 2008,” said Air Force Col. John Daniels, program director. “The missile will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base into the Pacific Test Range, where we will engage it.” The Missile Defense Agency’s Airborne Laser program is testing its chemical oxygen iodine laser at a laboratory at Edwards. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “The goal, which we hope to achieve by the end of 2005, is to consistently reach long-duration, full-power firing,” Daniels said. “I can’t give you exact figures, but it will be sufficient to destroy a missile from hundreds of miles away.” Program officials envision future Airborne Laser aircraft patrolling in pairs at more than 40,000 feet and inside friendly territory, scanning the horizon for missiles. When a missile is detected, a set of lasers will track and illuminate it, and computers will measure the distance and calculate its course and direction. A second high-energy laser, fired in a three- to five-second burst through the nose turret mounted on the 747, will destroy the missile. The laser is comprised of six modules, each weighing 4,500 pounds and about the size of a sport utility vehicle turned on its end. The beam will heat an area about the diameter of a basketball on the missile’s relatively fragile fuel-tank casing. The laser will weaken metal already under high pressure from the ignited rocket fuel. The aircraft that will carry the test laser completed a series of flight tests at Edwards in July and is now in Wichita, Kan., undergoing modifications to its aft section to prepare it for the installation. The beginning of the laser installation is more than a year away, since the modules have to be dismantled and removed from the laboratory at Edwards. The illuminator lasers also are being installed in Wichita. Those lasers will be tested on the ground and in the air before the aircraft returns to Edwards, Daniels said. “In 2008 we will be flight testing the entire weapon system,” Daniels said. Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!