LOS ANGELES – A Boeing 747 jumbo jet outfitted with a massive laser gun failed to knock out a dummy missile over the Pacific Ocean, marking the second consecutive setback for a key missile defense program that is years behind schedule and plagued by cost overruns.
The heavily modified 747, dubbed Airborne Laser Test Bed, was unable to fire the laser gun because its onboard sensors could not accurately track the missile, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said. It was the second time in as many months in which the laser failed to hit the target.
The latest glitch came at a crucial time for the program, which has been under intense scrutiny from a Congress looking to cut Pentagon spending on new weapons. The Pentagon quietly conducted the test late Wednesday night over a military test range near Point Mugu, Calif.
“In this budget environment, any setback to a controversial weapon system has the potential to be fatal,” said Loren Thompson, a military policy analyst for the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va. The airborne laser “is a revolutionary weapon system … but the government is out of money and it has taken an awful long time to develop.”
It has taken nearly 15 years and at least $4 billion to develop the airborne laser, which has been designed and tested in Southern California.
Boeing Co., based in Chicago but with a large presence in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach, is the prime contractor for the airborne laser program. Boeing provided the aircraft and the battle management system and oversaw the test.