Despite criticism that anti-missile systems are too expensive and unreliable to install on commercial airliners, the US Department of Homeland Security is seeking $100 million in fiscal year 2006 to install laser-based countermeasures systems on 20 aircraft operated by US cargo carriers for operational evaluation.
Systems are being developed and certificated by BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman under Phase 2 of the DHS's Counter-Manportable Air Defense Systems (Counter-Manpads) programme. "If appropriate, based on the Phase 2 results and approval from Congress", the DHS says, 16 pre-production systems will be procured and 20 aircraft modified to collect in-service cost and reliability data. The aircraft would be similar to those dedicated to the US Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which augments the Department of Defense's cargo capability.
Both contractors would be funded through Phase 3, to preserve competition, and would each update their system to incorporate new design requirements, including reliability improvements, technology protection and emergency ground notification of system activation, says the DHS. Systems would be certificated on additional aircraft models in Phase 3, and deployed on multiple types to gather realistic operating and maintenance costs, and performance and reliability data. Also in Phase 3 discussions would begin with manufacturers, including Airbus and Boeing, to determine the effort required to include provisions for Counter-Manpads systems on future production aircraft. Live fire testing is also planned.
GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC
Source: Flight International