In a press release sent out in 2003, then congresswoman Heather Wilson, then member of the House Armed Services Committee, brags about the military-based funding she gave for New Mexico. Her priorities were mission critical operations at Kirtland Air Force Base, such as the Theater Aerospace Command and Control Simulation Facility, the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center and military construction projects. Wilson stated “New Mexico is a leader in research and technology for the military, and Albuquerque is on the road to being a center of excellence for future defense needs, such as directed energy…Funding these important projects will improve our defense capabilities and keep defense-related research and development in New Mexico strong.”
Her priorities were as follows:
- $27 million for the Aerospace Relay Mirror System (ARMS), done by Boeing-SVS in Albuquerque, used by the Missile Defense Agency
- $5 million to fund the development of boron energy cells for spacecraft power, done by Qynergy in Albuquerque.
- $13.4 million for Theater Aerospace Command and Control Simulation Facility, a Wargaming and Simulation Center
- $41.6 million for the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC), to test new systems for the Air Force and multi-service uses.
- $20 million in appropriations in order to expand the High Energy Laser (HEL) Joint Technology Office (JTO) to a Directed Energy.
- $14 million for the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL), done by Boeing-SVS.
- $626.3 million for the Airborne Laser (ABL), a modified Boeing 747-400 with a laser turret.
The last two items are of interest with lasers on gunships. The first one, the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL), is a laser weapon fitted into an AC-130H “Spectre” gunship, used constantly by the Air Force since Vietnam. The ATL would use its chemical laser for non-lethal” means to target objects, such as puncturing vehicles. It would likely be used by special operation crews trained to infiltrate enemy areas for fighting or rescue missions. But Jim Riker, senior research physicist at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate admits that lasers are about melting things. John Pike of globalsecurity.org says it would likely be used on people also. Contractor Boeing-SVS is developing this weapon
The other main weapon is the Airborne Laser (ABL), also developed by Boeing, and run by the Missile Defense Agency. The ABL is a 747 with a laser on its nose, that flies at high altitudes to track enemy missiles in theater operations and hit them with a laser beam. It is also being cheered as an advancement in directed energy weaponry.
The costs for the ABL are vast. The entire program will cost $11 billion to obtain a seven-plane fleet by 2009. There was a $242 million cost increase in 2003, which led to a GAO investigation about cost overruns and delays. The Bush administration seeked $493 million for the program in 2005, part of the $11.7 billion for missile defense total that year. Another $617 million was given by Congress for the program in 2004.
Missile Defense Agency director Lt. Gen. Ron Kadish admitted problems but was still enthusiastic about the program. Victoria Samson of the Center for Defense Information saw cost overruns as serious, and doubted the program would still be around.
The military is committed to high tech weapons of war, and New Mexico is a major site for development and testing of these weapons. We will look more at these sites soon.
Press release. “Wilson Requests Funding for New Mexico-based Defense Research Projects.” April 2, 2002.
Navrot, Miguel. “Kirtland Developing a Gunship Laser.” Albuquerque Journal. Tuesday March 5, 2002. P. A1, A4.
Navrot, Miguel. “Anti-Missile Plane Overruns Go On.” Albuquerque Journal. April 2, 2004. P. B1.