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Boeing Sees Vast Opportunities In BMD Systems, Which Are Workable

By | March 12, 2007

      U.S. ballistic missile defense systems likely would work to knock down any incoming enemy ballistic missiles, industry briefers said today.

      The Boeing Co. [BA] had a great year in its multiple ballistic missile defense (BMD) development programs last year, including valuable lessons learned when North Korea belligerently fired off a series of missiles, the Boeing briefers told journalists.

      Looking ahead, the company sees a bright future for its ballistic missile defense programs, the briefers explained in a media session near the Pentagon.

      While they declined to say whether they are preparing to offer BMD systems for use in annihilating enemy missiles threatening U.S. satellites or other space assets, they said the Airborne Laser (ABL) wouldn’t require any modification for that space defense mission.

      The ABL system involves a Boeing 747 aircraft, highly modified, plus a Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] laser system and a Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] beam control/fire control system.

      China recently used a ground-based missile to demolish one of its own satellites, proving China can threaten U.S. space assets.

      Greg Hyslop, vice president and program director for ABL with Boeing Missile Defense Systems, said the program is on track to a 2009 test of its ability to shoot down a short- range ballistic missile.

      First, the system will be tested for its ability to hit targets on the ground, both stationary and moving.

      ABL involves using a laser beam that can be steered toward a target missile, streaming out of the nose of the 747 to both demolish the enemy missile and fry its electronics.

      “The program hasn’t yet hit a problem it hasn’t been able to solve,” Hyslop said. That includes testing the ability to recycle laser fuel.

      The beam control/fire control unit is advancing in its ability to track a target and compensate for distortional effects of the atmosphere on the laser beam, according to briefers.

      Boeing also is involved in the Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD) program, the sea-based missile defense system including in part the Lockheed Aegis weapon system, and more.

      Asked whether the missile defense systems could have use in knocking down enemy missiles aimed at U.S., allied or friendly space assets, a briefer indicated that is so.

      But they declined to speak specifically to whether Boeing is in talks on the issue, referring reporters to the government.

      The GMD system, which was stood up on alert when North Korea conducted ballistic missile tests in July, “is ready to defend the nation if called upon,” according to Scott Francher, Boeing vice president and GMD program director.

      Boeing and the U.S. military learned a great deal about ballistic missile work in July, thanks to those North Korean launches of shorter-range missiles, and a long-range missile that failed seconds after launch.

      “We were directed to stand the system up on alert” for a period that was “much, much longer than it had even been in that … status before,” Francher said.

      Based on “what we learned last summer, if called upon we could transition the system to warfighters,” he said. As programs progress, “as you go forward, gaining maturity, gaining confidence,” it becomes more likely that systems are reliable, he said.

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