The USAF awarded Boeing a $30 million contract for the test deployment phase of the Advanced Tactical Laser.
The ATL is a C-130H aircraft fitted out with a 12,000-pound high-energy chemical laser module that would be used as a weapon against ground targets. It's the smaller sibling of the Airborne Laser, a highly modified 747 under development that packs a similar weapon but that would be used against ballistic missiles.
The Advanced Tactical Laser will use a rotating ball turret to fire its laser weapon at ground targets.
Where the 747-centric ABL is designed to fire its laser through a bulbous nose apparatus, the ATL totes a belly turret reminiscent of the manned versions used in some World War II bombers.
The new Extended User Evaluation contract marks the start of a transition for the ATL, which Boeing has been working on as an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration project. The EUE phase means another round of ground and flight tests, along with "hands-on operation" for the Air Force and other potential users.
Why use a laser when the Air Force already has a wide array of missiles and bombs at its disposal? (The standard gunship variant of the C-130 can already be equipped with 40mm and 105mm cannons.) "Little to no collateral damage," Boeing says, thanks to the laser weapon's "ultra-precision engagement capability." That is, think laser pointer with extreme prejudice.
In addition, the laser would presumably strike silently--no thump-thump-thump or rat-a-tat-tat.
It gives silent but deadly a new meaning.