According to a Pentagon announcement issued Friday, last week Boeing
The combined weapons system, unimaginatively termed the "Airborne Laser" system, is part of President Bush's 21st-century update of President Reagan's Star Wars missile defense program. If further tests go well -- and this code-named "First Light" test was just an intermediary step, in which the weapon was not even airborne and was fired for just a fraction of a second -- the Airborne Laser would be used to fly patrol near "countries of interest." There it would keep lookout for ballistic missile launches and, seeing one, shoot the missile down at the most vulnerable point in the missile's trajectory -- as it struggles slowly skyward against gravity, moving in a straight line.
It's worth pointing out that, Star Wars-inspired or no, the Airborne Laser bears as little resemblance to Han Solo's blaster as, well, a circa-1960s IBM
So clearly there's still room for improvement in the system -- and that's probably fine with Boeing. Last week's successful test gives the Airborne Laser a chance to continue proving itself and Boeing and Northrop a chance to continue improving their product. It also gives them a good shot at continuing to receive funding out of the nearly $500 million allocated by Congress to the program for fiscal 2005.
And if the program is ultimately successful? Why, that's the best part of all for sci-fi-loving investors. Because, you see, Boeing and Northrop are also teaming up to bid to build the successor to NASA's space shuttle. First laser guns, and now spaceships? Give 'em a few decades, folks, and mark my words -- these guys will build us an X-Wing yet.
For more Foolish defense news, read:
- Defense Stock, Offensive Valuation
- Defense Budget Boom
- Will the Navy Scuttle Shipbuilders?
- Lockheed's Weight Problem
Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.