Lasers High and Low

British Airways Boeing 747 with winglets. (Adrian Pingstone)

Boeing has released this video of a test conducted at the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Alabama last September, during which the ground-based Laser Avenger weapon blew up 50 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) of the kind used against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mounted on an armored vehicle, the Laser Avenger already has shown that it can shoot down unmanned aerial vehicles.

September 2009 test against IEDs. (Source: Boeing)

The Pentagon is also making headway on its long-proposed Airborne Laser. On January 10, the Missile Defense Agency successfully fired a high-energy laser (below) from a modified Boeing 747-400 freighter against an instrumented rocket launched from San Nicolas Island in California. The laser acquired and tracked the target, but didn't destroy it. That next step in the research program may happen as early as this week.

In this silent video of Boeing's Airborne Laser Testbed, the ball turret in the airplane's nose is seen rotating without firing. In a shoot-down scenario, an advanced telescope inside the turret would fire three lasers in rapid succession at a target missile shortly after launch. In February 2010, off the U.S. West coast, the Airborne Laser Testbed destroyed a missile for the first time. Because of its huge cost and other factors, it has been downgraded to a research program. Still, the airborne laser has shown that directed energy weapons are pushing warfare to the speed of light. Video: Missile Defense Agency

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