Airborne Star Wars Laser

Airborne Laser (ABL)

In a scaled down version of the original 'Star Wars' plan, a Boeing 747-400F jumbo jet will cary a lightweight (3,000 lbs) TRW chemical oxygen iodine laser in its nose using a 1.5 meter telescope to focus the beam. The megawatt class laser can intercept missiles in the boost phase at ranges of up to hundreds of miles. Lower power illumination lasers built by Lockheed-Martin will acquire the missile and provide information for atmospheric distortion compensation.

A multihundred-kilowatt version of the laser has already been tested. The chemical oxygen-iodine laser (COIL) is the world’s shortest wavelength, high-power chemical laser. It is based on mixing common chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, helium and iodine. It lases on an atomic iodine trasition at 1.315 microns. The hot mixture of gases expands supersonically in a nozzle (see Computational fluid dynamics simulation of a COIL laser). This mechanism is somewhat similar to the gas dynamic laser. The program should be fully operational by the year 2003.

Other Airborne Defense Lasers

ALL (1983)

ALL (Airborned Laser Laboratory) a 400 kW gas dynamic CO2 laser aboard a Boeing NKC-137, a four engine cargo plane. Intercepted airborne AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles in 1983 at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, California The project was terminated in 1984.

Ground-Based Defence Lasers

MIRACL (1989)

MIRACL (Mid Infra-Red Advanced Chemical Laser) a closed loop 2.2 MW DF (Deuteurium Fluoride) laser operating at 3,800 nm at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Built by TRW for the Navy in the mid-1970s. Combined with the Skylite beam steering device, was fired successfully in 1989 in a test to attempt to intercept high-speed aerial targets. It reportedly forced down a Vandal supersonic missile simulating a sea-launched cruise missile at a range "representative of a real tactical scenario". In December 1997 it was fired at a satellite to assess the threat of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. Civilian uses for this laser are part of project HELLO - High-Energy Laser Light Opportunity. (see Popular Mechanics, October 1994)

LATEX (1986)

LATEX (Laser Associe a une Tourelle Experimentale) a 10 MW laser by General Delegation for Armament, France. Uses a commercialy developed tracking system by Laserdot.

MAD (1981)

MAD (Mobile Army Demonstrator) a 100 kW DF laser. Required a waste containment system for poisonous gases produced during operation. Lost funding before it could be scaled up to 1.4 MW. Later continued by Bell Aerospace Textron with Army funding under the new name Multi-Purpose Chemical Laser (MPCL).

UNFT (1978)

UNFT (Unified Navy Field Test Program, San Juan Capistrano, California) a 400 kW chemical DF laser. Used a Hughes aircraft targeting and aiming system. Intercepted TOW antitank missiles in flight. In 1980 a captive UH-1 helicopter was destroyed.

MTU (1975)

MTU (Mobile Test Unit) a 30 kW electrically-excited CO2 laser built by the U.S. It was housed in a Marine Corps LVTP-7 tracked landing vehicle. Reportedly destroyed winged and helicopter target drones in tests, but results were reported inconclusive.

HELEX (late 1970s)

HELEX (High Energy Laser Experimental) a muti megawatt gas dynamic CO2 laser mounted on a tracked armored vehicle (Leopard 2). Theoretical research was performed by by Diehl, Gmb in Nuremberg and MBB in Munich and commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Defence in Germany. The laser is powered by burning a liquid carried in storage containers : A common hydrocarbon fuel such as benzene (C6H6) is combined with an nitrogen compound oxidizer (N2O). After combustion, the high temperature gases are rapidly cooled by supersonic adiabatic expansion through a comb of very fine nozzles. This leads to a non-equilibrium distribution among many quantum levels of the CO2 molecule, some transitions are inverted. Energy is extracted from this population inversion by an optical resonator transverse to the flow. The 10,600 nm wavelength beam is directed by large mirrors on an adjustable scaffolding. The heat is carried away by the non-toxic waste gas via a diffuser.


a 1,300 J, KrF 249 nm, 7 to 3,000 microsecond pulse laser at the Los Alamos National Laboratory can be focussed to a 0.5 micron spot with an intensity of 1014 W peak power.

Russian HEL

Unconfirmed reports of the USSR (former) mounting a high-energy anti-sensor chemical laser on a Russian Kirov-class cruiser. Successfully used against sea-skimming missiles up to a range of 16 km.

ABL Web Sites

Chemical Lasers

Other 'Star Wars' Lasers

Laser History


Laser Stars