Three members of Congress propose "interim step" of equipping civil reserve fleet with countermeasures

Three members of the US Congress have unveiled a proposal to spend $655 million to equip 300 aircraft in the USA's Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) with anti-missile protections as quickly as possible.

The Democratic lawmakers say the plan recently announced by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to award $60 million to the private sector to study the feasibility of adapting military man-portable air-defence systems (Manpad) countermeasures to commercial aircraft is not enough.

House aviation subcommittee chairman John Mica has estimated that equipping all 6,800 commercial jets in the US fleet with anti-missile systems would cost $7-10 billion, or $1-2 million per aircraft.

"The administration wants to sprinkle a few million dollars and a bunch of studies on a $10 billion vulnerability to every commercial jet in America," says Congressman Steve Israel, leading the charge in the US House of Representatives to speed up deployment of commercial aircraft anti-missile systems.

Israel, along with Senators Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer, is pushing for the "interim step" of equipping 300 CRAF aircraft with advanced countermeasures systems now used on US military transports. There are more than 900 aircraft in the CRAF programme and this proposal would equip the third of the reserve fleet most likely to be called up for military duty.

"The vendors say that they could put the most sophisticated equipment [on the 300 aircraft] within months," says a spokesman for Israel.

But standing in the way of deployment are legislative hurdles. The proponents of the proposal - which would be attached to the $87 billion Iraq-occupation supplemental appropriation pending before Congress - have not yet lined up any firm support from Republicans, which they are likely to need to pass the measure.

Flight International's Counter-measures conference will now take place in Washington DC on 28 January 2004. For more information contact Sallie Edwards at sallie.edwards@rbi.co.uk or +44 (0) 208 652 8718.

Source: Flight International