Northrop Grumman is dissolving its civilian Guardian directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) team after completing phase three of a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) counter-Manpads programme to demonstrate the reliability and affordability of the systems for commercial aircraft.

The Guardian pod uses ultraviolet and infrared sensors to detect a manpads launch, then uses a turret-mounted laser to misdirect the shoulder-launched missile's guidance system.

The company built 14 systems, 11 of which took part in a 14-month test at FedEx. The cargo company flew the Guardian pods on nine MD-10 aircraft during revenue service on routes inside the continental USA, starting on 7 January 2007.

Efforts to secure more orders and revitalise the team are coming in part from the National Air Carrier Association (NACA), whose various charter airlines, including World Airways and Atlas Airlines, carry troops and supplies for the US military. "It's time to see if the Department of Defence should take on a similar project [to the DHS effort] to look at this for our carriers," says NACA president Tom Zoeller.

If mass-produced, the Guardian, a 227kg (500lb) pod that attaches to a mounting adapter under the fuselage, would cost less than $1m each, says Jack Pledger, Northrop Grumman's director of marketing and business development for electro-optical and infrared systems. Pledger says the cost translates to about $1 per passenger per flight for airlines.

During the trials, mechanics and pilots monitored system health functions on the Guardian pod itself as well as on a diagnostics panel in the cockpit. Northrop Grumman also received information, including latitude, longitude and system health indicators, directly from the pod via a real-time Inmarsat satellite link.

Northrop Grumman has 14 Guardians "on the shelf" from the DHS trials and parts to build perhaps one more, says Pledger. New orders will require a 14- to 20-month lead time to complete, says Pledger.

FedEx's nine aircraft flew the Guardian pods for a total of 10,000h over 4,500 flights, visiting 51 airports and recording a total "on" time of 23,000h. Pledger says the additional fuel burn from having the pod attached was less than 1%.

Although the results of live-fire tests performed last summer are confidential, Northrop Grumman says it was "pleased" with the performance.

BAE Systems, under a similar DHS programme, is slated to begin flying its JetEye DIRCM system on three American Airlines Boeing 767s this spring.