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Airborne laser weapon gets closer to takeoff

Flight testing is set to begin by the end of the year for the U.S. Air Force's Airborne Laser project, in which a modified Boeing 747 will act as a giant--and potentially potent--laser pointer.

The flight will follow ground-based tests of solid-state lasers that are expected to end in August, reported this week. In the flight test, the low-power lasers will be fired at a target aircraft adorned with the painted image of a ballistic missile, according to a Boeing executive cited by

The eventual goal of the ABL program is to shoot down actual missiles.

Also this year, work will continue on optical hardware to be used with the high-power chemical laser that will act as the weapons portion of the system, with more ground testing set for 2007. The solid-state lasers, by contrast, will be used for tracking targets and assessing atmospheric conditions. Next year, the refurbished chemical laser gear will be installed on the 747.

A missile-intercept demonstration is planned for 2008. The Air Force has been working on the ABL since the mid-1990s. The budget for this year is $471.6 million, reported.

The ABL is one part of a multifaceted defense that the Pentagon envisions against a ballistic missile attack.