Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems and BAE Systems face major challenges in producing commercial airline missile countermeasures systems sufficiently cheaply to meet government specifications, an independent report has concluded.

Both companies have been chosen by the US government to develop civil variants of their military systems. Northrop will begin the airborne test phase of its Guardian directed infrared countermeasures civil aircraft missile-protection system in the fourth quarter of this year.

Independent US research organisation Rand has published a study concluding that civil airline missile countermeasures "are not cost-effective" at their predicted prices and operating costs. If existing or in-development systems were to be adopted for the USA's 6,800-strong airline fleet, says Rand, installation costs would be $11 billion, with annual operating costs of $2.1 billion. Over 20 years, the cost of missile countermeasures to the government and the airlines would be more than $40 billion, says the think-tank.

Rand admits that the cost to the industry in terms of the loss of confidence caused by a single successful man portable air defence system shootdown would be "incalculable", but insists it is now more effective to work harder at ground-based measures like improving security near airports and making aircraft more resistant to missile damage.

Undeterred by Rand, Northrop says it is on target for a fourth quarter 2005 airborne test of its Guardian DIRCM on a Northwest Airlines Boeing 747 and a FedEx Express Boeing MD-11, which would be a part of the US Federal Aviation Administration certification process. The company says Guardian will "ultimately cost approximately half of recently published figures", pointing out that Rand derived its figures from the more expensive military versions of the equipment.

Source: Flight International