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05 2001






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 director.

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 of schedule.

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.

AviationNow.Com 05 2001 .