No, it's not the plot of some ridiculous new low-budget action movie: the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces panel has asked the Missile Defense Agency to figure out how much it'll cost to unscrap the Airborne Laser Testbed and put it into action against the North Korean ballistic missile threat.
While we're all for the funding and deployment of gigantic long-range superpowered chemical battle lasers mounted on 747s, the slightly surreal part about all this is that the damn thing doesn't really work all that well, and neither do North Korea's ballistic missiles.
We'd absolutely love to be able to say that the ABL is deserving of another few billion dollars, and maybe it is when considered as just a research project, but it's a long way from being ready for operational deployment. The ABL has a relatively short range, is not very good at dealing with bad weather and has a history of mechanical and electrical issues. What's more, it only carries enough toxic chemicals for about a dozen shots, and (perhaps most relevantly) a laser plane costs about $1.5 billion plus $100,000 per hour to keep in the air.
Meanwhile, considering that North Korea's last attempt at a missile launch ended in a well-publicized failure that ended up even worse than its second to last attempt at a missile launch, the big question is just why we even need to have ABL platforms available to counter a threat that doesn't exist. But, maybe this is really the perfect solution: the laser jets get to claim 100% deterrent effectiveness while justifying continued development. After all, North Korea hasn't been able to launch a missile yet, has it? And who knows, maybe the reason that Best Korea's last missile blew up was actually due to a successful airborne laser strike, and that's why Congress is all of a sudden interested in funding the program.
Yes, that must be it, it's just so improbable that it absolutely has to be true.
Via Danger Room