Friday, 12 January, 2001
Air Force's Airborne Missile Blaster
CNN is running a story about a laser-equipped 747 that the Air Force has designed to blast ballistic missiles. I'd like to think that the USAF engineers know what they're doing, and the idea is certainly cool (a nose-mounted swiveling megawatt-plus laser), but I have serious doubts about how effective such a thing can be. The system is designed to weaken the structure of a missile as it's rising from launch, which will (in theory) cause the missile to break apart as the aerodynamic stresses increase during flight. According to the story, the system has a range of "hundreds of miles" under optimum conditions, and an 18-second "kill window." That's 18 seconds for the system to identify a launch, track the target, and fire. This assumes, of course, that the airplane is pointed in the right direction when the missile is launched.
In order for the system to be effective during battle, they'll need at least two planes in the air all the time (so that at least one is pointing toward the suspected launch sites), which means that they'll need at least 9 planes total (2 for each 8-hour shift, and 3 spares to rotate in during maintenance) in any area. They'll also need at least 12 flight crews if the system will be in theater for any length of time. I wonder how effective this system can be against mobile missile launchers, or against an enemy that can have multiple launchers spread out over a wide arc.