How Things Work: Missile Killer

In this tables-turned scenario, the airplane shoots down the missile.

An engineer adjusts the beam-control optics that ride in the nose of the Airborne Laser Testbed, a modified Boeing 747-400F. The optics stabilize and shape the weapon laser’s beam as it is aimed by the nose turret’s computer-controlled telescope at a target missile. (Lockheed Martin)
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Watts could see a high-energy chemical laser on the ground. “Israel has a small area to defend,” he says. “They could hook [a big chemical] laser up to a ground-based industrial system. That makes a lot of sense for their problems. For the U.S., with so much more territory to defend, that would get expensive fast.” One day, the laser may be able to reach targets far higher than boost-phase missiles. “You could put a big one on the ground and mess with people’s satellites,” says Watts. Airborne or not, it looks like lasers have arrived.

Damond Benningfield is a science and technology writer in Austin, Texas.

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