Jams Guidance Systems Of Incoming Missiles
Northrop Grumman -- in
competition with Britain's BAE Systems for a federal contract to
equip commercial airliners with a missile defense system -- took
the wraps off their proposed method last week in Mojave, CA.
The six-foot long, canoe-shaped device mounts on the underside
of an aircraft's fuselage, and would fire a laser beam at an
incoming shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile -- not to destroy
it, but instead to jam such a missile's remote guidance system,
according to the LA Times.
Without a target lock, the missile would fly off course, away
from the airliner.
The US Department of Homeland Security sees the widespread use
of shoulder-fired missiles being used against domestic aircraft to
be a very real threat. More than one million portable missile
launchers have been produced worldwide since the original
shoulder-held launcher and tennis-can-size missiles were designed
in the US in the 1950s, according to reports cited by the
According to the TSA, 35 foreign-operated civilian aircraft --
mostly in war-torn parts of Africa -- have been fired on by
shoulder-fired missiles. Two of those aircraft were brought down by
portable shoulder-fired missiles, killing 640 passengers. An
Israeli passenger jet also narrowly missed being brought down by
two missiles as it was taking off from Kenya in 2002. Terrorists
linked to Al-Qaeda are believed to have been behind the attack.
Two years ago, a DHL cargo A300 (above) was felled by a missile
fired at it shortly after takeoff from Baghdad International
Airport in Iraq. The crew, in a remarkable display of piloting
skill (described here), managed to return to
the airport safely despite near total loss of flight control
While those cases certainly indicate a real threat, there are
other real threats out there as well -- and debate has intensified
whether the cost of such defense systems (reportedly as much as $1
million per aircraft) is warranted for such a specific threat.
"It's a huge expenditure of resources to deal with one type of
threat," said Air Transport Association Executive VP John
Northrop and BAE are competing to develop less expensive
commercial versions of missile defense systems used on military
aircraft. Northrop has their device mounted on a FedEx MD-11 for
testing, while BAE has equipped an American Airlines B767 with
their version of the system.
Also, Raytheon has
proposed a ground-based missile defense "shield" that would create
a high-powered microwave field over airports, confusing missile
guidance systems. Such a system would cost approximately $25
million per airport, and would only be effective while aircraft are
operating within the area around the airport -- some portable
missiles can reach as high as 15,000 ft AGL.
Live-fire tests of the system ultimately chose by the US
government will be conducted at New Mexico's White Sands Missile
Range next year.