Proving ABL

Rep. Martin Henreich (D-N.M.), in whose state resides the Missile Defense Agency’s Airborne Laser (ABL) Program Office, questioned the MDA director, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, during a May 21 House Armed Services strategic forces panel hearing over plans for the ABL, now that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has downgraded it to a research effort only. O’Reilly said that MDA is “convinced that we’ve solved the largest fundamental problem,” but since it is “revolutionary technology, we still must prove it.” That proof may be long in coming, at least as far as Gates is concerned. He told the House Appropriations Committee May 20, that he knew of no one at DOD “who thinks that this program should or would ever be operationally deployed,” and then said, “There’s nobody in uniform that I know who believes that this is a workable concept.” (We can name one: Gen. John Corley, Air Combat Command boss, who last year advocated that the program “should remain on track” for its primary antiballistic missile role and might also fill some adjunct missions, as well.) O’Reilly continued, saying if the fall shootdown is successful, the ABL platform could continue to serve a research and development role. In his view, there are “great indications” that the laser could be employed on a smaller aircraft “and be much more deployable.”