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AIRBORNE LASER PROGRAM GETS SOME GOOD NEWS BULK OF FUNDING RESTORED BY HOUSE PANEL ACTION STILL LEAVES PROJECT $50 MILLION SHORT.

Byline: JIM SKEEN

Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE -- A defense bill dramatically reduced the size of a proposed funding cut for the Airborne Laser, a major test program at Edwards Air Force Base, but still left the effort $50 million short.

A cut of $400 million originally proposed by the House Armed Services Committee was reduced to $50 million in the 2008 Defense Appropriations bill approved by the House of Representatives. The move leaves the program with approximately $409 million.

The bulk of the funding was restored by the House Appropriations Committee, which cited significant progress in the program.

"The committee believes that a robust boost intercept capability is vital to a layered missile defense system," committee members wrote in a report to their colleagues. "Further, the committee notes the technical progress that the Airborne Laser (ABL) program has made over the last three years with the early accomplishment of the firing and refurbishment of the high energy laser and the continuing flight testing of the associated beam control/fire control system. These technical challenges were accomplished while the program stayed within the government determined schedule and budget."

The program, employing about 700 workers at Edwards, is aimed at proving that a flying laser weapon can be used to destroy ballistic missiles. Program officials plan to conduct a shoot-down of a missile in 2009 to prove the concept of the weapon system.

"We applaud the positive language the appropriators also included relative to the impressive progress of the ABL program," said a statement from the Boeing Co., lead contractor on the program. "This House action is recognition of the tremendous potential of ABL's transformational technology and vital mission objective of providing the U.S. with capability to shoot down a ballistic missile in its boost phase. We hope that the final Congressional appropriation will provide for full funding of ABL."

In the same bill, more than $2 million was included for projects at Edwards Air Force Base.

The bill included $1.5 million for an effort to develop a new liquid rocket booster engine at the rocket lab at Edwards and $720,000 for a project to increase redundancies for flight test monitoring equipment.

"The defense funds set aside for California's Edwards Air Force Base will boost our nation's military capabilities and enhance protections for Americans at home and overseas," said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita. "The defense project funds secured in the House-passed Defense Appropriations bill will further the technology our country needs to remain protected from our enemies now and in the future."

The bill also included $7.2 million for an effort to equip the B-2 Stealth bomber to allow it to carry small-diameter bombs.

The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate for a vote and later to a conference between both Houses. For the bill to become law, it must then be signed by the president.

james.skeen(at)dailynews

(661) 267-5743
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 8, 2007
Words:491
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