The U.S. Missle Defense Agency (MDA) reports that its airborne laser successfully shot down its first ballistic missile last night over Ventura, California.

The MDA’s press release explains that the airborne laser “successfully destroyed a boosting ballistic missile” and “the entire engagement occurred within two minutes of the target missile launch”.

According to Reuters, the laser system, called a “Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB)” is being developed by Boeing Corporation and the MDA and is essentially a “modified 747 jumbo jet” with a “higher-energy laser” attached to the nose of the plane.

Unfortunately the Obama administration has slated the Airborne Laser program for budget cuts. And these are not the only Obama cuts to our nation’s multi-layered missile defense system. The Obama Administration has proposed: to cap at 30 the number of fielded interceptors for countering long-range missiles; to terminate the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program for defeating counter-measures in the midcourse stage of flight; and to terminate the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program for intercepting ballistic missiles in the boost-phase stage of flight.

Heritage F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy Baker Spring adds:

Although the U.S. Department of Defense and its industry partners work constantly to advance and improve defense technology, it is a rare occurrence when one such program can be described as a breakthrough. Mark your calendars, because just such an occurrence took place on February 11, 2009, off the coast of California. That day the Missile Defense Agency announced that a modified Boeing 747 aircraft carrying a high energy laser had tested the laser against a boosting ballistic missile and successfully intercepted and destroy the target missile (

It is understandable that the America people may have believed that using a laser to shoot down a launching ballistic missile is the stuff of science fiction. Clearly that used to be case, but today it is just science and no longer fiction. The Missile Defense Agency attached pictures and videos of the test to its on-line announcement and must be seen to be believed. The Missile Defense Agency and its contractor team, which included Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, deserve the heartfelt congratulations of the American people for this achievement.

It also important for the American people to recognize what this means for ballistic missile defense. It demonstrated a system that is capable of destroying a ballistic missile in the boost phase, before it releases decoys and other countermeasures that are able to confuse or overwhelm missile defense systems that intercept their targets later in flight, at the speed of light. Clearly, this breakthrough will lead to further refinements of directed energy weapons technology, including for purposes other than ballistic missile defense. It should be recognized, however, that it was the ballistic missile defense program that brought about this extraordinary technological breakthrough. Accordingly, it would be foolish for the Obama Administration to curtail this program and others developing this class of technologies.

To see the full range of the government’s Ballistic Missile Defense System, consult the MDA’s interactive graphic. For those interested in the importance of American ballistic missile defense, check out Heritage’s 33 Minutes documentary.

Update: As John notes in the comments, the MDA has just released the official video from yesterday’s test. We’ve updated the video.