back to article Nuke-nobbler raygun 747 in first full-power blast

US aerospace globocorp Boeing is chuffed as ninepence today to announce the first full-power firing of its jumbo-jet-mounted, ICBM-toasting ray cannon - the Airborne Laser (ABL). The system saw "first light" in September, but this is the first time the big laser's knob has been turned up to full. ABL doing its bit in the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Orbital battle stations

    Far more logical ...

  2. E

    Sitting Ducks?

    A 747 is big, relatively slow and not at all stealthy. Surely a 747 is an easy target for a missile?

    You probably can't scramble a 747 when the ICBM launch is detected - too little time because teh 747 is too slow. So... the USA will need a large enough fleet to keep a bunch of 747 laser planes in the air 24x7.

    This sounds less like a reasonable military tool, more like another way to prop up Boeing.

  3. Warhelmet

    Let me be the first...

    to welcome our new laser-toting jumbo jet overlords.

    And what would Jesus say?

  4. Martin Lyne


    1 - Get Cuba or some S. American country to host an ICBM of yours

    2 - Chest thump at the US of A

    3 - Wait til ABM is flying patrols over the US.

    4 - Shoot it down, spilling corrosive chemicals all over a city from a great height

    5 - Profit (presumably)

    How come people complain about nuclear space rpobes doing the bidding of science, but thousands of gallons of toxic-soon-to-be-toxicer chemicals flying around?

    Lasers are cool and everything, but the precision one discussed recently is more interesting nad useful, unless they can get the ABL to refract off the atmosphere and hit targets over the horizon or bounce it off a space mirror (oh noes, a mirror in space! it will fall and kill us all!) then I'm not sure how useful they'll be without a whole fleet airborne in the immediate vicinity tat are pointing in the right direction as an ICBM *happens* to launch. (How long do 747s take to turn around? What happens if there's lots of cloud cover?)

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Nice to show who the enemy is

    Is that F35 in the picture shooting at a Sukhoi or I am having hallucinations... Guess not... We now know who the enemy is. Good to know that the boys at the Missile Defence Agency are keeping up the good work of their friends in the early days of the Reagan administration which nearly brought us to the verge of the Nuclear Holocaust via the dick measuring contest vs their equivalent in the Andropov administration.

  6. Nomen Publicus
    Thumb Down

    Just curious

    Does it work in the rain?

  7. EdWeb

    Er...what happens...

    ...if they miss with a shot, either in real life or in a test? Does some poor soul 750 miles away get a toasted backside?

  8. Mike Powers

    Just make sure to always check your optics!

    It's a moral imperative.

  9. Efros
    Paris Hilton

    One hopes

    The knob in question goes all the way up to 11.

    Paris cos she knows....

  10. david wilson

    Nice picture!

    Who does their artwork - people moonlighting from doing pamphlet covers for the Jehovah's Witnesses?

  11. jack horner

    Rock out with your Hawk out...

    "With a new and less hawkish president shortly to take up office..."

    Did I just imagine that bit during the presidential preliminaries? -You know, when Barack and Hilary were trying to out-hawk each other over just how much they would obliterate Iran - should it prove to be 'necessary'.

    Just how much money was it again that Hilary get from the 'defence' industry? Does the cash transfer to Barack now, or does she get to keep it?

    - and who's the new guy at Defence? Don't I recognise him from somewhere?

    To finish on a really depressing note - look how Blair turned out. Ethical foreign policy - ha!


  12. Mike Richards

    Just wondering... long it took to get all those nasty chemicals onboard using the regulation 100ml bottles.

  13. Scott Broukell

    Paying for it

    Simply scrap the Boeing thing, bite the bullet and buy the big Frenchy Airbus. Then there's room for some passengers as well, to help fund the whole project. Make airlines fly the beasts on long haul around your desired potential target areas, add some in-flight refueling, in case you go active and have to keep the birds aloft. Advertise the whole thing as flying with security and any action as an added bonus ring-side seat! Finnaly seal the blast-proof passenger compartment prior to flight, so no hoodlums can think outside the box in a blue-sky take-down, low hanging fruit kinda way.

    Hell-bent Commercialism and End of Humanity Military might in harmony.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Problem with the illustration

    Am I the only one who noticed a gaping hole in the defences?

    All that water, but only two ships.....

    This oversight can be corrected with Doctor Evil style - "frickin' sharks with frickin' laser beams".

    I know I'd sleep a lot better knowing they were protecting us ;-)

  15. Chris Thomas

    You all miss the point

    The point of the ABL for those who seemed to haved missed it, is not to put a fleet of 747's with huge massive chemically toxic lasers in the air, but to verify than you can do it.

    Like all things, the first computers were massive, what happened to them? they shrank, A LOT.

    The 747 is the collosus of the laser weapon world, it's aim, to do the job with the tech we have and prove a lot of things possible, then afterwards, reduce the size, possibly the power and refine the idea for replacing some weapon systems on smaller fighter aircraft, what about in 10 years time, we find this mounted on a A10, then maybe with the size down, increase the power using more modern tech (from 10 years in the future of course) and then you've got bullets and missles eliminated.

    The only thing that stops a laser, is being destroyed, or being out of power, If you can solve the power problem, you'll have sufficient ability to stop yourself from being destroyed

    making any plane with them, almost invunerable.

    Admittedly, this isnt tomorrow, but this is where it's going. Forget ABL's and think about what happened with computers. You'll find your analogy quickly enough.

  16. Mike Powers

    I guess the mods haven't seen "Real Genius"

    It's a moral imperative!

  17. s. pam
    Black Helicopters

    Don't you DARE speak back at the trolley dollies any more!

    Clearly those yobs and bogans on cheap ticket flights better be served notice when boarding -- Shut the Fsck up or be Lased!

    Clearly this is smarty disguised as a military programme but in actuality is a new way to deal with surly air travellers.

    Given the propensity to misbehave on flights, I suspect Aussie carriers will be first to deploy, followed like cattle by the 'Mercans....

  18. Christian Vest Hansen
    IT Angle

    Tin foil hats...

    ... for the misiles.

    I mean, surely it is possible to fashion a surface material for the rockets, that is able to reflect the majority of the energy away, no?

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Orbital battle stations

    As the ISS has proven time & time again, orbital space stations are the ultimate in useless buggy money pits.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    "the only thing that stops a laser"

    "The only thing that stops a laser, is being destroyed, or being out of power"

    Well, sort of.

    As the article says, there's a swivelling shiny thing at the front of the 747 that allows the death ray to be pointed wherever the target is without having to turn the whole 747 to point at the target. Obviously the swivelling shiny thing doesn't get destroyed when the laser goes off.

    So, put something similarly shiny on the target itself, and then what happens? Or, as others have pointed out, if there happens to be something in the atmosphere that disperses the laser beam... say, maybe, rain, snow, sleet, hail, cloud, a sandstorm... Good job these things are unusual on Boeing test flights, eh?

    There's not much more sense in the rest of your contribution.

    Military intelligence. Whatever.

  21. tygrus

    crossfire Risk

    I would not like to be caught in the cross fire. Either in the air or on the ground if aimed wrongly. Still sounds very experimental and risky.

  22. Jan

    Now they only have to find a plane...

    ...since Boeing is going to stop (or has already stopped) building any more 747-400F. Maybe they can put their fancy laser in a run down cargo wh*re from UPS... almost new, only 1.2 million hours on the airframe...

    ...the one with the McKenna-class patches

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Toxic, no problem..

    "as the necessary stuff is highly corrosive and toxic - as are the waste products ....."

    that's OK there is a big puddle of water between the US and the middle east. Heck us Brits have been dumping toxic waste into it* for decades. Besides isn't this all a bit over kill to get a man in a tent?

    *Ok mainly the Irish sea, but you get the drift...

  24. Paul Murphy

    An old idea ..

    1) go to the moon,

    2) find a small rock

    3) fling said rock (rather precisely it has to be said) at a target (on Earth due to gravity well) - using a rail gun/ monorail arrangement with a rock holder on top.

    4) get a bigger rock goto 3 until country containing targets capitulates,

    5) profit !!

    Copyright Heinlein 'Moon is a harsh mistress' 1966 -

    just a thought is all I'm saying...


  25. Ralph B
    Thumb Down

    Gotta Hope

    Gotta hope The Enemy don't bother to give their ICBMs a mirror finish.

    Nah. They just wouldn't, would they?

  26. Andy

    Force fields?

    Apparently (according to the picture) we have force field technology now?

  27. Anonymous Coward

    @ Tin foil hats ...

    Indeed, that's what I was thinking... make the ICBM's outer coating have the same properties as the mirror that aims the laser. But I can't find out if it is a mirror that aims it. It's all hush-hush apparently.

    Mine's the one with the big disco-ball ICBM in the pocket...

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Ralph B

    Yeah, nice idea. Coat the missiles in a material that provides the biggest radar target of all time.

    Reflection is not 100% efficient, the mirror heats up under reflection. With this amount of energy, the material will either burn (in case of paint) or melt (in case of polished metal) and become no longer polished. This process will occur in milliseconds.

    Also, materials capable of reflecting visible light are relatively poor at other frequencies.

  29. goggyturk

    SAC Airborne Alerts...

    "You probably can't scramble a 747 when the ICBM launch is detected - too little time because teh 747 is too slow. So... the USA will need a large enough fleet to keep a bunch of 747 laser planes in the air 24x7."

    What, like this?

    "Good to know that the boys at the Missile Defence Agency are keeping up the good work of their friends in the early days of the Reagan administration which nearly brought us to the verge of the Nuclear Holocaust via the dick measuring contest vs their equivalent in the Andropov administration."

    Check your history, I'll think you'll find it was JFK and Kruschev who brought the world closest to the edge of armageddon and Reagan who signed the deal with the Soviets to move back from the brink. Now how will JFK II pan out?

    I'd rather have this than missile defence shields in the Russians' old stamping ground. Now that's a lot more provocative than frikkin' lasers.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    @AC 11:36

    "the material will either burn (in case of paint) or melt (in case of polished metal) and become no longer polished. "

    What miracle stops this happening to the beam steering device (aka mirror) on the plane?

    Incidentally, have readers noticed what's typically found at each end of a laser? A reflective surface, aka mirror. But AC 11:36 says it won't work, so those lasers must all be wrong.

    OK tinfoil might be a nice radar reflector, so what, if the enemy can see you but can do nothing about it, who cares!

  31. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    For once, Smoke and Mirrors IS the answer..

    I understand that the standard countermeasures to lasers are cheap and ubiquitous...

    1) Staying low in thick and turbulent air

    2) Mirrors or shiny surfaces (obviously)

    3) Slowly rotating or manoeveuring the target

    4) Including solid decoys in your weapon's track. These can be heated up as much as you like, but they still won't disintegrate, and therefore the laser will be diverted targeting them for a long time...

    5) Smoke is apparently very effective. I understand laser labs are lined with plywood, so if a stray beam hits the wall, a puff of smoke jumps out and defocusses the beam. Pumping smoke particles of the correct size out of the front of a missile ought to make it impossible to focus on....

    Still, none of this is important. The laser will probably end up having two main uses:

    a) as a justification for huge military spend, and employment for thousands

    b) as a torture weapon for the LAPD

  32. Yorkshirepudding
    Black Helicopters

    moon base freedom

    excellent not long before our colonial brothers install one on the secret moon base. and we have a real deathstar

    im still waiting for my nasa approved starfury

  33. Anonymous Coward

    When do I...

    ... get one for the beat car?

    Wouldn't it look great adorning the front of oil tankers for use against pirates!

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ... little mirrors on the missiles to deflect the beam

  35. Mike Powers

    @Dodgy Geezer

    1) Staying low in thick and turbulent air is somewhat "contra" the CONOPS for an ICBM...

    2) "shiny surfaces" will not cut it at these power levels. The entire laser system is hermetically sealed to maintain cleanliness. The internal particulate levels of this laser system make a chip-fab oven look like a pigsty. This is not just a matter of putting a chrome finish on the thing!

    3) Like they say in the book, rotating the missile is akin to suggesting that a ballet dancer pirouette in front of a shotgun.

    4) How exactly are you going to deploy decoys DURING THE BOOST PHASE?

    5) See #4.

    PS A "torture weapon"? That's an amusing notion. I could see a 747 in LAPD colors orbiting over the barrio, frying chickens from 35000 feet...

  36. david wilson

    Radar target? (@AC 11:36)

    Why would an infrared mirror be any better as a radar target than a regular metal missile casing?

    Would radar running on centimetre/millimetre wavelengths care whether a surface is reflective and polished at IR wavelengths?

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Oh, I get it.....

    I'll be waiting for reports of spontanious human combustion to be on the rise.

    Those pesky protestors won't know what hit them.

  38. Jan


    Launching the nuke-tipped ICBMs within several dozen of missles of same size and flight characteristics should do the trick.

    This will be rather expensive since the decoys will have to stay with the nukes until the MIRV deploy, so you actually need quite a few additional ICBM minus their warheads.

    otoh, when you bother hurling several hundred Nukes at your opponent, you might as well field your own airborne lasers which start picking off the other guys ABL. And while the ABL are busy killing each other the ICBM proceed.

    Enter scene: second strike capability. Welcome back, cold war.

    But for the occassional "rouge state" (that would be India and China, or did the Pakistani finally field a _working_ long-range-missle?) decoy missles should do.

    googles, and always remember: duck and cover (when you see a nuke flash on the horizon).

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