U.S. Department of Defense - Missile Defense Agency

U.S. Department of Defense - Missile Defense Agency

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2011 Technology Achievement Award Winner

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Airborne Laser Test Bed Team

Brig Gen Robert D. McMurry, Mr. David Bakke, Lt Col Jeffrey E. Warmka, Mr. Richard Flanders, Mr. Guy Renard, and Mr. Paul Shattack

The Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB) made history with a game-changing directed energy demonstration in February 2010. The ALTB system destroyed a threat representative missile during its boost phase with a megawatt-class laser fired from an airborne platform. This extraordinary feat culminated over a decade of development, testing, and technological advancement, during which the government and contractor team overcame technological and engineering challenges never before encountered. To reach this revolutionary achievement, the ALTB team, a joint effort between the Airborne Laser Test Bed, Directed Energy Program Office, Missile Defense Agency. members of the Airborne Laser Test Bed Combined Test Force, members of the Boeing Airborne Laser Test Bed Team, members of the Northrop Grumman Airborne Laser Test Bed Team, and members of the Lockheed Martin Airborne Laser Test Bed Team, successfully integrated three separate ground-breaking component systems onto an airborne platform, each of which possessed the most advanced technology in its field: a megawatt-class Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser, a state-of-the art Beam Control/Fire Control system, and a sophisticated battle management suite, In short, the ALTB team delivered what some consider the most complex prototype in the history of the Department of Defense.

En route to the historic demonstration, ALTB accumulated a series of "world's first" demonstrations of directed energy technology, where each test built upon the success of the previous tests. These firsts included: the first detection and tracking of a boosting target missile with onboard low power losers, the first compensation of atmospheric distortion during a low power engagement of a boosting target missile, the first operation of a megawatt-class laser in flight, and the first high-power laser engagement of a diagnostic missile from an airborne platform. Using the knowledge gained with each of these successful steps, the ALTB team proved that the system was capable of successfully engaging and negating a threat representative missile in the boost phase and that airborne directed energy technology is ready for further testing and development.

During the first lethal engagement of a ballistic missile on February 11, 2010, a short-range, liquid-fuel threat representative ballistic missile was launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform at Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range off the central California coast. Within seconds, the ALTB used onboard sensors to detect the boosting missile and used a low-energy laser to track the target. The ALTB then fired a second low-energy laser to measure and compensate for atmospheric disturbance. Finally, the ALTB fired its megawatt-class High Energy Laser, heating the boosting ballistic missile to critical structural failure. The entire engagement occurred within two minutes of the target missile launch, while its rocket motors were still thrusting. After the program finished its data analysis, this "shootdown" event demonstrated the system was significantly more capable than predicted against this target class.

Less than an hour after destroying the threat representative ballistic missile and in the same flight, the ALTB successfully tracked and engaged a solid-fuel Terrier Black Brant (TBB) target missile. This event required special in-flight inspection procedures and safety verifications to ensure the ALTB prototype could safely lase two targets in one mission. While the TBB engagement was not lethal, it still met all test objectives and proved a multiple engagement capability for the system.

The February 11, 2010 ALTB lethal engagement demonstration not only marked the first directed energy lethal intercept against a boosting ballistic missile target from an airborne platform, but also demonstrated the revolutionary potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light.

Space Tracking and Surveillance System Team

Mr. Steven G. Leonard, Dr. Nat Bhaskar, and Mr. David A. Bloodgood.

Mr. Steven G. Leonard, Dr. Nat D. Bhaskar, and Mr. David A. Bloodgood have demonstrated exceptional leadership and unmatched technical acumen in the development of the two groundbreaking Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) Demonstration satellites. Their truly revolutionary breakthroughs in the use of infrared sensors for birth-to-death tracking of missile targets culminated over 25 years of research and development reaching back to the earliest days of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Their unmatched technical leadership resulted in the transfer of the $1.7 billion STSS program from the Air Force to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) in 2002 and continued to be the driving force through all phases of design review, fabrication, integration, ground testing, launch, and on-orbit operations.

During the early phases of STSS, they successfully advocated for the inclusion of long-wave infrared (LWIR) capability. They oversaw the production of the first radiation-hard LWIR focal planes and the advanced cryocooling and thermal management systems required to operate them on orbit. Their ceaseless efforts resulted in a multi-waveband sensor suite enabling STSS to track and discriminate missile targets in all phases of flight using a combination of visible, short-wave, medium-wave, and long-wave infrared focal planes — making STSS one of the most complex optical payloads ever flown in space. They meticulously oversaw the development and test of the extremely advanced on-orbit processing and software systems enabling STSS satellites to autonomously duplicate, in space, the primary functionality of an entire Defense Support Program satellite and manned ground system.

The STSS leadership team was responsible for saving a satellite when it failed to transition to a pre-planned flight mode enabling charging of spacecraft batteries — a potentially fatal condition. Their foresight in deploying three mobile communication terminals to the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions in the weeks prior to launch allowed continuous communications with the satellite throughout the crisis. Under their decisive leadership, the operations team flew the satellite manually for 12 hours while root cause was determined and fixes made, saving the $700 million satellite from imminent demise.

They successfully led the on-orbit calibration and test of the STSS satellites, with all four sensor payloads performing better than pre-launch specifications. Under their leadership, STSS demonstrated the world's first stereo tracking of a missile target through boost and mid-course phases, a long-awaited milestone for MDA. Additionally, they successfully completed critical tests on the path to the launch of an Aegis Weapon System interceptor based on a fire-control solution generated by STSS. This ground breaking achievement enables a potential order of magnitude increase in the effective engagement space for the Aegis Weapon System and dramatic improvements in overall Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) effectiveness. The unprecedented accomplishments of Mr. Leonard, Dr. Bhaskar, and Mr. Bloodgood in pioneering space systems for the BMDS required extraordinary perseverance over many years of intensely challenging and highly technical work. Their efforts represent the highest possible standards of technical excellence.