The U.S. Missile Defense Agency rolled out an airborne laser aircraft on Friday, the latest development in a missile-defense system that was once ridiculed as a "Star Wars" fantasy.

In a ceremony at the Boeing Co.'s (BA) Integrated Defense Systems facility in Wichita, the agency announced it was ready to flight test some of the low-power systems on the ABL aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-400F designed to destroy enemy missiles.

Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said he embraced early critics' comparison of the laser-equipped plane to the "Star Wars" movies.

"I believe we are building the forces of good to beat the forces of evil. ... We are taking a major step in giving the American people their first light saber," Obering told dignitaries and employees gathered for the ceremony.

The laser weapon's system is designed to detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles in their boost flight phase.

It will likely be 2008 before the program is ready to fire at a missile in flight, and it wouldn't be operational until the middle or late part of the decade, he said.

"This is not the prettiest aircraft I have seen," Obering said. "It is not supposed to be pretty. It is supposed to be mean."