Missile protection development contracts to be awarded

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has launched a programme to develop systems to protect commercial aircraft from terrorist attack by shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile systems. Northrop Grumman and Israel's Rafael will be awarded contracts to develop prototype directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) systems for airliners, and other companies will be invited to submit proposals on how to protect civil aircraft from the threat.

If the countermeasures systems prove viable, the DHS has indicated to Congress that it will seek US government funding to equip the US airline fleet, at a cost of $1-2 million per aircraft. Senators Barbara Boxer and Charles Schumer have proposed legislation to equip all 6,800 aircraft at a cost of $10 billion.

Earlier this year, Northrop Grumman proposed equipping just the 300 US aircraft used on international routes with a version of its military AAQ-24(V) Nemesis large-aircraft DIRCM system at $2 million per installation. The company estimates that protecting 300 Boeing 747s, 767s and 777s would cost $655 million - $55 million for certification and $600 million for production and installation - and would take 28 months.

The Israeli civil aviation authority has begun certification of two countermeasures systems, in co-ordination with the US Federal Aviation Administration. One is Elta's Flight Guard, which uses directional sensors to activate flare dispensers, and Rafael's Britening DIRCM. Rafael sources say the Britening system can be certificated by year-end. The Israeli government is expected to pay for systems to be installed on all Israeli passenger aircraft.

If the US plan proceeds, large passenger aircraft are likely to be equipped first, but eventually regional jets would be fitted with the systems. A conformal pod mounted under the aft belly would house the missile warning sensors, processor and the turret for the laser jammer, which confuses the missile seeker. The system would take "less than a week" per aircraft to install.

Source: Flight International