Chemical High-Energy Laser Systems

All of the U.S. military's megawatt-class laser systems are chemical lasers designed and built by Northrop Grumman. Two of those pioneering, high-power laser systems continue to lead the way for the laser weapon systems of tomorrow: The Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser onboard the Airborne Laser Test Bed, and the Tactical High Energy Laser.

Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB)

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB) transitioned from science fiction to directed energy fact Feb. 11, 2010 when it put a lethal amount of 'light on target' to destroy a boosting ballistic missile with a blast of directed energy from COIL – the most powerful laser ever developed for an airborne environment.

As its name states, COIL is a chemical oxygen iodine laser, and is one of two laser systems on ALTB designed and built by Northrop Grumman.

Team ALTB includes The Boeing Company, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. Northrop Grumman provides COIL and the Beacon Illuminator Laser (BILL), a solid-state laser. Boeing, the team leader, is responsible for weapon system integration and supplies the 747-400F aircraft and BMC4I-battle management, command, control, communications, computers and intelligence. Lockheed Martin supplies the Beam Control/Fire Control system.

COIL's fundamental building block is a laser module. Six of these modules are linked in a series to achieve ALTB's megawatt-class power. Built of advanced, lightweight materials, the laser is designed for simple, safe operations and maintenance.

Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL)

The Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) demonstrator was designed, developed and produced by a Northrop Grumman-led team of U.S. and Israeli contractors for the U.S. Space & Missile Defense Command, Huntsville, Ala., and the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

Located at the High Energy Laser Test Facility, White Sands Missile Range, N.M., THEL is a complete, fixed-site weapon system that includes a high-energy laser beam generator, based on deuterium fluoride chemical laser (DFCL) technologies; an acquisition, pointing, and tracking system; and a battle management system, including an organic fire control radar.

THEL was designed and built in only four years – from 1996 to 2000. Field tests began in 2000 and ended in 2005, during which time it destroyed 46 rockets, artillery and mortar rounds in flight. This included:

  • 28 Katyusha rockets, including salvos & a surprise attack
  • 5 artillery projectiles
  • 3 large caliber rockets
  • 10 mortars, including a salvo of three
  • 7 medium, 2 heavy and 1 light rockets / missiles were destroyed.

The former THEL test bed is being transitioned for use in the Army's Solid State Laser Test Bed Experiment, also located at the Army's High Energy Laser Test Facility.

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