American and BAE prepare to test properties of anti-missile system

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Tests on how a system to protect against shoulder-fired missiles developed by BAE Systems will affect aircraft reliability and fuel consumption are scheduled to begin in the spring of 2008 on three American Airlines Boeing 767-200s.

An American spokesman says that the exercise won’t entail the testing of laser beams, rather it will focus what effect the system, which is mounted on the bottom of the aircraft’s fuselage, has on the aircraft’s operations.

BAE Systems used an American 767-200 in late 2005 to fly and test its system against simulated man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS. American’s spokesman notes that BAE leased the aircraft from the carrier, and the plane has rejoined American’s fleet.

The three 767-200s planned for use in next year’s tests will fly mostly long-haul domestic flights, American’s spokesman explains. He notes an anti-missile system is not necessarily the airline’s first preference for defense against MANPADS, but the carrier wants to understand how the system works.

BAE Systems says the testing will probably continue through the end of next year, and a company spokeswoman notes procurement of the materials for system installation has started. Once the current stage of its agreement with the US Department of Homeland Security and Defense is finalized, BAE Systems will use the money from that installment of the contract to handle the installations. The company says it is currently in stage three of DHS’s program of counter-MANPADS testing. Northrop Grumman is also a participant in the program.

BAE says during the current phase of the program it will also fly the anti-missile system on an ABX Air Cargo aircraft. The company says this continuing development “aims to reduce the potential costs to the airline industry by streamlining system installation, reducing aerodynamic drag and improving reliability and maintainability.”

DHS selected BAE Systems in 2004 to adapt military technology to applications that could protect commercial aircraft against shoulder-fired missiles.