In the mid-1970s, high-energy lasers showed great promise for anti-air warfare and in particular anti-ballistic missile defense. DARPA supported many technology and early system concepts for tactical high-energy lasers. This support culminated in DARPA funding the development of the Baseline Demonstration Laser (BDL) and the Navy ARPA Chemical Laser (NACL), the latter with a joint funding arrangement with the Navy.
Concurrent with these systems programs, DARPA funded the Special Laser Technology Development Program, which led to many advanced components and concepts. These concepts formed the bases for several developmental laser systems. Most noteworthy were the Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL), a massive megawatt device that relied on rocket-engine-like combustion and that first lased in 1980, and the Chemical Oxygen-Iodine Laser (COIL). The latter forms the basis of the Air Force’s Airborne Laser (ABL). In a later demonstration, the MIRACL system shot down a live, short-range rocket at White Sands Missile Range. The success led to the initiation of an operational system concept study by TRW to develop a Theater High-Energy Laser (THEL). Although the system demonstrated the capability of in-flight destruction of live artillery and the destruction of several rockets in a single day, the program ended in 2006. Even so, high-energy laser development has continued toward a pathway of operational capabilities.
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