Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Airliner anti-missile systems

An Associated Press article published on the Airport Business news website tells us that it could be 20 years before every U.S. passenger airplane is outfitted with a system to protect it from the small portable missiles known as MANPADs (Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems).
Under a test program, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman developed systems using lasers over the past two years that still do not meet the reliability standards set by the Homeland Security Department, the report said.

"The prototype units are capable of partially meeting the Department of Homeland Security performance requirements," the report said.
Although Congress has paid for the development of such missile defense systems for commercial aircraft, it is not at all clear that they intend to spend the billions that it would cost to equip thousands of airliners in the U.S.
"Ultimately, Congress is going to determine whether it wants to support a wide-scale deployment of Manpads countermeasures to the aviation industry," said William Knocke, Homeland Security spokesman.

Under pressure from Congress in 2004, the Homeland Security Department gave Northrop Grumman Corp. and BAE Systems Plc $45 million (euro35.25 million) each to adapt military missile defense systems to be used by airlines. Military systems require too much maintenance, and too often are fired by mistake, to be used on a passenger airliner.

Both BAE and Northrop systems use lasers to jam the guidance systems of incoming missiles, which lock onto the heat of an aircraft's engine.
According to a government report recently obtained by the Associated Press, tests showed the following:
  • They can be installed on commercial aircraft without impairing safety
  • At least one company can supply 1,000 systems at a cost of $1 million (euro780,000) each
  • It will cost $365 (euro285) per flight to operate and maintain the systems, more than the $300-per-flight (euro235-per-flight) goal
  • The systems are not yet reliable enough for commercial use
In the next phase of development, the report said that the systems will be tested on cargo aircraft in real operational environments for advancements in reliability, performance, cost and ability to be manufactured.

Source: Airline Anti-Missile System Years Away - Airport Business

More Info about MANPADs:
The MANPADS Menace: Combating the Threat to Global Aviation from Man-Portable Air Defense Systems - U.S. Dept. of State
MANPADS Proliferation - Federation of American Scientists
The proliferation of MANPADS - Jane's International Security News
Comments of Capt. Stephen Luckey, Air Line Pilots Association International, Concerning Countermeasures to Shoulder-Fired Anti-Aircraft Missiles, June, 2004

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