ABL MANAGERS SEEK CONGRESSIONAL REPROGRAMMING
The U.S. Air Force and the Boeing-led team developing the Airborne
Laser are trying to pump almost $100 million into the program this
year to keep it on track.
The USAF is petitioning Congress to reprogram $38 million this
fiscal year and contractors - Boeing, TRW, and Lockheed Martin -
would supply another $20 million each in an interest-free, unsecured
loan to be repaid next year, says Col. Ellen Pawlikowski, ABL program
The team needs more money partly to cover $34 million in cost increases
incurred by the program. The rest will help to accelerate some efforts
that were planned for later in the program. Managers will cut future
budgets to offset the money spent this year.
In total, the cost of the ABL risk reduction phase should rise
only about $41 million, Pawlikowski said, which is about 5% beyond
the expected $800 million price.
If Congress denies the Air Force request, it could delay by anywhere
from 15 to 20 months a scheduled attempt in late 2003 to use ABL
to shoot down a ballistic missile. That demonstration is seen as
critical to prove the system can carry out its mission.
The high-power chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) that is supposed
to destroy the missile will be carried on a modified Boeing 747-400
freighter (pictured) and fired at a range of several hundred kilometers.
The first aircraft, already being modified at a Boeing facility
in Wichita, Kan., is about 60% complete.
Managers blame higher laser beam and fire-control system component
costs for the program cost growth. But it's also the result of some
technical problems in developing the megawatt laser-system, with
delivery of some items several months behind schedule.
Activities that are being accelerated include reducing the weight
of several components. The USAF thought it could wait for those
until the program entered its engineering and manufacturing development
phase, but realized recently as components were being delivered
that more needed to be done during the risk-reduction phase. A more
sophisticated optical diagnostics system also is being pursued ahead
ABL has a history of unstable budgets. In 1998, Congress trimmed
the budget request and for this year the Air Force under-funded
the program. But lawmakers stepped in and boosted the service's
budget by $85 million to keep the program on schedule.
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