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Fresh Look:An independent assessment of the Airborne Laser program is still a good idea, Paul Francis, the Government Accountability Office's director for acquisition and sourcing management, told the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee April 1. “I think boost phase is something that there's been quite a bit of debate on, and it's something I think that we probably know the least about if you look at the full layer of [the Ballistic Missile Defense System],” Francis said in response to a question by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the panel’s chairman. “So I still think that that's a reasonable thing to do.” Francis also said the lethal shootdown demonstration planned for the ABL program in 2009 is “a crucial first question,” but “by itself wouldn't be proof” that the system should be fielded operationally. Instead, additional tests will be needed to show that the ABL can function reliably and repeatedly, he said. Thereafter is the need to look at the “operational practicality,” and then if the support infrastructure can be put in place and maintained affordably, he said. Appearing at the same hearing, Air Force Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said the shootdown is provisionally planned for next summer. “At the end of this year, we should be firing out of the aircraft on the ground, and we should be going through our checks and our fire control loops and that type of thing, get back in the air early next year for the shoot down,” he said.