Mon, May 30, 2005
Placebo Or Good To Go?
An American Airlines
767 will soon feature a new piece of equipment designed to defend
the airliner against missile attacks. This plane and two others
will be used by the Department of Homeland Security to test the
infrared laser-based systems.
The systems are designed to detect an incoming missile and fire
an infrared laser to disable the missile's seeker. Shoulder
launched missiles have been used for years all around the world,
and the concern is that terrorists could use them to attack
airliners. Even if an aircraft lands safely after an attack, the
industry could suffer severe repercussions if the public was too
afraid to fly.
"We are long overdue for a passenger aircraft to be taken down
by a shoulder-launched missile," said Representative John L. Mica,
Republican of Florida, according to the New York Times. Mica is in
favor of installing the systems. "We have been extremely, extremely
DHS has invested $120 million so far in the testing and
development of these systems, but some are asking if the project is
worthwhile. While recognizing that the systems do represent a
threat, some security experts believe that the cost of installing
the systems could be put to better use. The systems could cost over
$1.6 million per plane, and up to $10 billion to install them on
commercial jets in service. Accounting for maintenance and other
operational costs, the cost balloons up to $40 billion over the
next 20 years.
"People have probably assumed that these kinds of weapons would
work with much greater certainty," said K. Jack Riley, of the Rand
Corporation to the Times. The Rand Corporation is a nonprofit
research organization that has studied shoulder-mounted missile
threats. "This is not as big a threat as people might think."
A shoulder-launched missile hit a DHL A-300 in November 2004
after the plane took off from Baghdad. Although the plane was
severely damaged, the crew managed to land without any
The AA 767, a Northwest 747 and a FedEx MD-11 will have the
devices installed for testing, which will occur without passengers
on board. DHS gave money to both Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems
for system development. The companies are competing to build the
systems that would be used to protect aircraft within roughly 50
miles of the airport.
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