Airborne Laser Zaps in-flight Missile

This photo released by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), claims to show the launch of the high-speed surface-to-surface Sajjil-2 missile, by Iranian armed forces, at an undisclosed location on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009.
AP Photo/ISNA,Vahid Reza Alaei
Score one for the Airborne Laser.

In a milestone for the ambitious directed-energy project, now dramatically downsized, the Pentagon's Airborne Laser prototype weapons system destroyed a ballistic missile that was in flight. The shootdown took place February 11 off the central coast of California.

"The Airborne Laser Testbed team has made history with this experiment," said Greg Hyslop, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems, in a statement released Friday. Boeing is the prime contractor for the Defense Department project.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency was equally enthusiastic about the results. "The revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile defense," the agency said in a statement, "with the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light, at a range of hundreds of kilometers, and at a low cost per intercept attempt compared to current technologies.

Unfortunately for proponents, the achievement is rather bittersweet.

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By Jon Skillings