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Cutaway of the Airborne Laser 747-400 Freighter Platform

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Cutaway of the Airborne Laser 747-400 Freighter Platform

Team ABL members are responsible for various elements of the system: Boeing is responsible for supplying the 747-400 Freighter, developing crew safety and the Battle Management system. Lockheed Martin is responsible for the nose-mounted turret, illuminator lasers and beam-control system. TRW is responsible for the system's high-energy laser.

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The ABL weapon system consists of a high-energy, chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) mounted on a modified 747-400F (freighter) aircraft to shoot down theater ballistic missiles in their boost phase. A crew of four, including pilot and copilot, would be required to operate the airborne laser, which would patrol in pairs at high altitude, about 40,000 feet, flying in orbits over friendly territory, scanning the horizon for the plumes of rising missiles. Capable of autonomous operation, the ABL would acquire and track missiles in the boost phase of flight, illuminating the missile with a tracking laser beam while computers measure the distance and calculate its course and direction. After acquiring and locking onto the target, a second laser - with weapons-class strength - would fire a three- to five-second burst from a turret located in the 747's nose, destroying the missiles over the launch area.

The airborne laser would fire a Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser, or COIL, invented at Phillips Lab in 1977. The laser's fuel consists of the same chemicals found in hair bleach and Drano - hydrogen peroxide and potassium hydroxide - which are then combined with chlorine gas and water. The laser operates at an infrared wavelength of 1.315 microns, which is invisible to the eye. By recycling chemicals, building with plastics and using a unique cooling process, the COIL team was able to make the laser lighter and more efficient while - at the same time - increasing its power by 400 percent in five years. The flight-weighted ABL module would be similar in performance and power levels to the multi-hundred kilowatt class COIL Baseline Demonstration Laser (BDL-2) module demonstrated by TRW in August 1996. As its name implies, though, it would be lighter and more compact than the earlier version due to the integration of advanced aerospace materials into the design of critical hardware components. For the operational ABL system, several modules would be linked together in series to achieve ABL's required megawatt-class power level.

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