The U.S. military has been developing a gunship that could literally obliterate enemy ground targets with a laser beam.
The military plans to test the Advanced Tactical Laser, a laser weapon mounted on a C-130H air transport that could destroy any weapon system without collateral damage.
The laser could have tremendous repercussions on the battlefield, particularly in urban warfare in such countries as Afghanistan and Iraq. "It's the kind of tool that could bring about victory within minutes," an official said.
The applications of ATL could change military dynamics on the battlefield. Officials envision the laser being able to destroy or damage targets in an urban area with virtually no collateral damage. The range of ATL was expected to be 10 miles.
has been headed by Boeing Missile Defense Systems in a project
with the U.S. Air Force. Boeing has already taken delivery
of the aircraft and plans to modify the platform for the ATL program.
Officials said a C-130H transport that belonged to the U.S. Air Force's 46th Test Wing was being modified to contain a high-energy chemical laser. The platform would also contain battle management and beam control subsystems.
Under the program, Boeing would test the aircraft in July 2006. The aircraft would have all subsystems on board except the high-energy laser. Officials said a low-power surrogate laser would be used instead of the kilowatt-class, high-energy laser.
At the same time, the high-energy laser would be completed in Albuquerque, N.M. Officials said the first ground tests of the laser would take place in the summer of 2006.
By 2007, Boeing plans to install the laser on the aircraft and operate the weapon during flight. The laser, designed to be fired through an existing 50-inch-diameter hole in the aircraft's belly, would be demonstrated for military missions.
Officials said ATL was being developed through the Pentagon's Advanced Concept
Technology Demonstration program. Should the tests in 2007 prove successful, the Pentagon was expected to approve full-scale development of the airborne tactical laser.
The ATL was deemed as complementary to the Airborne Laser program for the Missile Defense Agency. ABL was meant to mount a megawatt-class chemical laser on a Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft.