Boeing starts leak tests on nuke-nobbler raygun jumbo

Corrosive laser fuel must burn holes in ICBMs, not 747


US aerospace megacorp Boeing has announced that ground tests of its nuke-roasting aerial blaster cannon are imminent. "Activation Tests" of the newly installed Airborne Laser (ABL) ray weapon - the final stage before ground firings - have now begun, according to the company.

The ABL's mighty chemical laser, designed to heat up ascending ICBM rocket stacks to explosion point from 400km away, has now been fitted inside the back half of the 747 cargo plane which will carry it. The battle computers, beam-control and aiming gear in the front end were successfully flight tested last year, using a low-powered beam in place of the full power photon arse-kicker.

The chemically fuelled weapons-laser system has also been tested on the ground, apparently producing acceptable results, but taking it to bits and reassembling it inside the plane has been no easy task. However, Boeing reckon they've now accomplished this, with nothing left to do but some final wiring and plumbing, and integrity tests on the laser.

This last is important, as chemical laser fuels - and the waste products produced during firing - are highly toxic and corrosive, so any leaks could result in the plane being badly damaged or even destroyed. Boeing plan to do the initial checks with water or other harmless liquids, before moving on to the real zap-juice. Then there will be ground firings and flight tests, followed by a full-dress trial against a ballistic missile (without warhead) planned for next year.

"Laser installation and the start of laser activation move the program a giant step closer to ABL's missile shoot-down demonstration planned for 2009," says Boeing raygun chief Scott Fancher.

Critics of the programme have noted in the past that the 2009 date has tended to move back year on year; the inaugural missile sky-fry was originally planned for 2005. However, for the past year at least, the date has held steady - perhaps indicating that Boeing may have got over the worst of their technical problems. The ABL programme continues to struggle for support and funding in Washington, however.

Even if ABL can successfully toast a rocket in '09, however, this is unlikely to totally silence all criticism. Opponents say that the strato-raygun is realistically only useful against missiles launching from sites close to friendly (or at least neutral) airspace. For ABLs to be any use against nukes lifting off from the interior of larger countries, the blaster-jumbos might have to mount incursions across the enemy's border - a move which could trigger the very strike they are designed to defend against. The laser planes are reckoned to be effective against missiles only in the early stages of their flight, while boosters full of fuel are still there to be cooked off.

Others point out that a large and expensive fleet of ABLs would be needed to keep up standing patrols near rogue states, and highlight the logistic difficulties attendant on the planes' dangerous laser fuels. Still others note that the ABLs would probably be no use against submarine-launched missiles, unless some way of reliably tracking nuclear-powered subs could be found.

Boeing and the Pentagon's Missile defence Agency aren't having any of that, however. They reckon the ABL is pretty damn cool, and they have expressed their views in the form of multimedia - made available on YouTube earlier this year, courtesy of Flight magazine:

(You need Flash and a friendly firewall to see it.)

That may console any raygun fanciers reading this until the real testing starts - assuming that this time the schedule is real. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • How ICE became a $2.8b domestic surveillance agency
    Your US tax dollars at work

    The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has spent about $2.8 billion over the past 14 years on a massive surveillance "dragnet" that uses big data and facial-recognition technology to secretly spy on most Americans, according to a report from Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology.

    The research took two years and included "hundreds" of Freedom of Information Act requests, along with reviews of ICE's contracting and procurement records. It details how ICE surveillance spending jumped from about $71 million annually in 2008 to about $388 million per year as of 2021. The network it has purchased with this $2.8 billion means that "ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency" and its methods cross "legal and ethical lines," the report concludes.

    ICE did not respond to The Register's request for comment.

    Continue reading
  • Fully automated AI networks less than 5 years away, reckons Juniper CEO
    You robot kids, get off my LAN

    AI will completely automate the network within five years, Juniper CEO Rami Rahim boasted during the company’s Global Summit this week.

    “I truly believe that just as there is this need today for a self-driving automobile, the future is around a self-driving network where humans literally have to do nothing,” he said. “It's probably weird for people to hear the CEO of a networking company say that… but that's exactly what we should be wishing for.”

    Rahim believes AI-driven automation is the latest phase in computer networking’s evolution, which began with the rise of TCP/IP and the internet, was accelerated by faster and more efficient silicon, and then made manageable by advances in software.

    Continue reading
  • Pictured: Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way
    We speak to scientists involved in historic first snap – and no, this isn't the M87*

    Astronomers have captured a clear image of the gigantic supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy for the first time.

    Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* for short, is 27,000 light-years from Earth. Scientists knew for a while there was a mysterious object in the constellation of Sagittarius emitting strong radio waves, though it wasn't really discovered until the 1970s. Although astronomers managed to characterize some of the object's properties, experts weren't quite sure what exactly they were looking at.

    Years later, in 2020, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to a pair of scientists, who mathematically proved the object must be a supermassive black hole. Now, their work has been experimentally verified in the form of the first-ever snap of Sgr A*, captured by more than 300 researchers working across 80 institutions in the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. 

    Continue reading
  • Shopping for malware: $260 gets you a password stealer. $90 for a crypto-miner...
    We take a look at low, low subscription prices – not that we want to give anyone any ideas

    A Tor-hidden website dubbed the Eternity Project is offering a toolkit of malware, including ransomware, worms, and – coming soon – distributed denial-of-service programs, at low prices.

    According to researchers at cyber-intelligence outfit Cyble, the Eternity site's operators also have a channel on Telegram, where they provide videos detailing features and functions of the Windows malware. Once bought, it's up to the buyer how victims' computers are infected; we'll leave that to your imagination.

    The Telegram channel has about 500 subscribers, Team Cyble documented this week. Once someone decides to purchase of one or more of Eternity's malware components, they have the option to customize the final binary executable for whatever crimes they want to commit.

    Continue reading
  • Ukrainian crook jailed in US for selling thousands of stolen login credentials
    Touting info on 6,700 compromised systems will get you four years behind bars

    A Ukrainian man has been sentenced to four years in a US federal prison for selling on a dark-web marketplace stolen login credentials for more than 6,700 compromised servers.

    Glib Oleksandr Ivanov-Tolpintsev, 28, was arrested by Polish authorities in Korczowa, Poland, on October 3, 2020, and extradited to America. He pleaded guilty on February 22, and was sentenced on Thursday in a Florida federal district court. The court also ordered Ivanov-Tolpintsev, of Chernivtsi, Ukraine, to forfeit his ill-gotten gains of $82,648 from the credential theft scheme.

    The prosecution's documents [PDF] detail an unnamed, dark-web marketplace on which usernames and passwords along with personal data, including more than 330,000 dates of birth and social security numbers belonging to US residents, were bought and sold illegally.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022