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The YAL-1 Might Get Scrapped

I have written and referred to the 747 with the big real genius laser strapped to the nose a bunch of times.  I just read an article over at Wired’s Danger Room about the YAL-1 project – some call it the “Flying Lightsaber” – and things ain’t going too well financially.  The project is $4 billion over budget, it’s dangerous as hell to the crew, and the project is about 8 years behind.  I guess that means things don’t look too good for this project.  Did I mention that in-flight operating costs are $92,000 an hour?

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The laser that flies onboard – the COIL laser mentioned in previous posts (chemical oxygen iodine laser) contains some nasty, nasty stuff to power the laser reaction.  Check this out:

One of the bigger problems is the chemicals needed to start the laser chain-reaction aren’t exactly the most stable and healthiest things to have around: 1,000 pounds of chlorine, 1,000 pounds of ammonia, 12,000 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, 220 gallons of sulphuric acid.

They’re so toxic, in fact, that the Air Force documents recommend that “all personnel must be [in the] forward [part of the plane] “during taxi, takeoff, and landing.” Going to the Airborne Laser’s aft “in flight is only allowed during a declared emergency, and then only for the absolute minimum duration, in Level A hazmat suit.”

Well, that’s gonna get a run for its money from solid state laser technology at some point.  We know that solid state weaponized lasing just hit 105.5kW, but the chemical laser technology is up around the megawatt class.  Let’s see how quickly the JHPSSL can multiply that laser power factor.

From what I have read, the technology is very powerful, but quite dangerous and becoming a pain in the rear of the people funding it.  It’s got a limited range and a handful of firings of the laser – not exactly a full-time protector, per se.

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Senator Carl Levin (Senate Armed Services Committee chair) and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Obama pick for undersecretary of state arms control) aren’t real happy with the progress of this program, and they keep slamming it.  From an article at The Danger Room:

Count as unimpressed Rep. Ellen Tauscher, the influential Congresswoman and Obama administration pick for under secretary of state for arms control. She spoke yesterday at a conference co-sponsored by the Missile Defense Agency. “If you were there and you are a supporter of the Airborne Laser program, you didn’t have a good morning,” InsideDefense.com quips.

Noting that the program is eight years behind schedule and $4 billion over cost, Tauscher said ABL [Airborne Laser] is the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over despite failing each time.

“We can no longer continue to do everything and explore every potential technology,” Tauscher added. “Missile defense cannot be like some second marriages — the triumph of hope over experience.”

Levin and Tauscher were also quoted in DoDBuzz while talking to a group of missile defense advocates:

The two politicians are Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. They told roughly 1,000 missile defense advocates in separate speeches that more and better testing must be done and hard choices are coming that will probably mean substantial cuts to the MDA budget. But there were also distinct signs of a hopeful nature, from the new head of MDA, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, and from one of its most persistent and respected critics, Philip Coyle, former head of Operational Test and Evaluation.

Tauscher’s line was simpler and less compromising than Levin’s. “We need to make some tough defense budget decisions,” she said, pointing to the Airborne Laser program, which is four years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. “Let me be clear. Those days are over.”

Well, goodbye big chemical laser flying machine of death.  Maybe solid state lasers will advance quickly.  I wonder how that cure for cancer’s going?

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Thanks, DangerRoom, DoDBuzz, and CNet!