The Air Force awarded a $1.1 billion contract Tuesday to Boeing Defense Space Group to build a prototype laser-armed warplane which could be used to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles in the next century.
“This is truly a revolutionary system,” said Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Air Force chief of staff. “We believe that the cost and the risk now are manageable.”
The modified 747 freighter would carry a weapons-class laser capable of tracking and destroying ballistic missiles in their earliest boost phase.
The Air Force projects having a seven-plane fleet of laser-attack planes as early as 2008.
In its development phase, the aircraft is known as the YAL-1A, or Attack Laser Aircraft.
The plane could be deployed around the world to defend against ballistic missiles such as the Scuds used in the Persian Gulf War.
“Two would be flying around the clock above 40,000 feet over the country they would be protecting,” an Air Force fact sheet says about the aircraft. “If the enemy were to launch a theater ballistic missile, the Attack Laser Aircraft would detect the booster while it still is powered and passing through the clouds. The Attack Laser Aircraft would then destroy the missile, with the resulting debris falling back on enemy territory.”
Harry Schulte, Air Force program executive officer for weapons, said total production cost would be about $5 billion, while the 20-year life span of the system would cost about $11 billion.