In his recent Washington Examiner column, the Heritage Foundation‘s James Carafano recounts the successful Airborne Laser (ABL) test that occurred earlier this month. Within two minutes of launching, the high-energy laser found its target and destroyed it.
“Not bad for a defensive weapon once ridiculed as science fiction,” Carafano writes. “Skeptics even persuaded the Obama administration to slot the airborne laser for the ninth circle of procurement hell — a pit for dead-end research and development programs. But this month’s dramatic success has put the critics on their heels…The Point Mugu exercise was what engineers call a ‘proof of principle’ test. They tested it. It is proven.”
Despite the ABL’s success, the Obama administration opted not to build a second test aircraft. Why? “It will argue laser missile defense makes no sense because the weapon’s range is limited to a few hundred kilometers. That would put the lumbering aircraft well within the range of air defense systems fielded by the likes of North Korea and Iran.”
But shorter-range Scud missiles, however, are threats that the ABL can counter. The former Soviet Union made these missiles, and today other countries make their own. Carafano notes that Iran’s Shahab-3 is an advanced Scud variant probably capable of traveling 1,000 kilometers and carrying a warhead.
“It couldn’t reach Washington from Tehran, but then, it wouldn’t have to. Iran could easily extend the missile’s reach simply by moving it to a commercial freighter and firing it from nearby using an improvised vertical launch tube disguised as cargo.”
Is this something worth worrying about? Please post a comment at the Washington Examiner.