The Airborne Laser team is proceeding with system integration work on YAL-1, the prototype aircraft, at Edwards AFB, Calif., and plans to ramp up test activities in 2009, said Mike Rinn, Boeing’s ABL program director, at a company roundtable March 25. The aircraft’s high-powered chemical laser has proved effective on the ground and in the lab when run for varying durations. Further, in the past year-and-a-half, the ABL team has been able to demonstrate the beam control/fire control technology of the laser in a series of flight tests against a NC-135 Big Crow test aircraft serving the role of surrogate missile. “Right now the team is actively engaged in putting the final pieces together,” Rinn said of the assembly of the laser at Edwards, adding that final assembly is expected to be complete by the end of this summer. In early spring 2009, the ABL will undergo a series of increasingly complex tests. This will start with sealing the chemical laser in the aircraft and making it “leak safe” and airworthy, then coupling it with the beam control, he said. A series of simulated test shots is planned, starting against the Big Crow to calibrate the ABL’s systems, then against sounding rockets. A live-fire test against a “threat-representative ballistic missile” scheduled for late summer 2009 will be staged at San Nicolas Island, off California, a part of the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Rinn said. A successful intercept would clear the way for the program to begin work on the second ABL airframe, he said.
Rumored cuts to the F-35 from the fiscal 2025 defense budget—six from Air Force plans—would not be offset by recent Foreign Military Sales, and will disrupt ongoing Lot 19 negotiations, Pentagon and industry sources said.