By David Learmount at Farnborough air show

Northrop Grumman has submitted a proposal the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a ground-based defence system designed to operate near airports to intercept and destroy shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defence systems (Manpads).

In launching its Skyguard system, which destroys projectiles using high-energy lasers, the company is competing with Raytheon, which has answered the DHS request for proposals with its Vigilant Eagle system using high-power microwaves.

Northrop business development manager Jeffrey Grant says Skyguard is a development of its Tactical High-Energy Laser (THEL) system developed for the US and Israeli military to intercept rockets, artillery shells and mortars, which it has been proven to do successfully. Grant says the system, a mobile unit that uses radar to detect, identify and lock onto the target, then directs a laser to destroy it, would be ready for deployment within 18 months.

The initial installation costs about $150 million and subsequent units $45 million, says Grant. While this sounds expensive, a just-published study calculates the economic cost to the airline industry of a successful strike by a missile on an aircraft taking off or landing at an airport could be as much as $250 billion. This estimate, based on the air transport industry losses caused by the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA, was calculated by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, an international scientific body.

Alexis Livanos, president of Northrop's Space Technology sector, says Skyguard is a part of its "layered approach" for airport security, another key part being its aircraft-mounted directional infrared countermeasures system intended to confuse an incoming missile's guidance system.

Source: Flight International