Meanwhile, Israel funds Flight Guard system certification

Several head-of-state aircraft in the Middle East will be equipped with anti-missile defences if the US Congress approves sales of Northrop Grumman AAQ-24(V) Nemesis directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) systems for installation on large commercial aircraft operated by the governments of Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has allocated $1.3 million for flight testing and civil certification of Elta's Flight Guard, with the intention of equipping all Israeli passenger aircraft with the flare-based countermeasures system by mid-2004.

Congress has been notified of the proposed sale of one DIRCM to Bahrain for a Boeing 747-400, one to Qatar for an Airbus A340-500, and three to Saudi Arabia for Boeing 737s and 747s. The directional jammers are identical to the large aircraft infrared countermeasures systems being installed on US Air Force transports, with three small laser turrets and six missile warning sensors. They are more complex and expensive than Northrop Grumman's single-turret DIRCM pod proposal for commercial airliners.

The sales to Bahrain and Qatar are potentially worth $61 million each including support, while the Saudi sale is valued at $240 million. Northrop Grumman says its airliner DIRCM would cost $2 million if 300 aircraft were equipped and half that if 1,000 or more were fitted.

The US company has had discussions with airlines, as well as Airbus and Boeing, but has yet to be asked for a price proposal, says director IRCM business development Jack Pledger.

British Airways says it is in exploratory talks with the aircraft manufacturers about anti-missile technology, but no decisions have been made. Pledger says Northrop Grumman's airliner DIRCM, housed in a canoe fairing under the aft fuselage, could be ready for certification nine months after go-ahead.

Despite pressure from Congress, the US government has not allocated funds to equip passenger jets with missile countermeasures. The Department of Homeland Security plans to award two flight test contracts later this year. Northrop Grumman believes its DIRCM is one of eight concepts still in the running. Elta's Flight Guard has been eliminated because the USA does not favour use of flares, but the system's radar-based missile approach warning system could be used with shortlisted contenders.

Flight International is organising a dedicated Countermeasures Conference in Washington DC on 18 November. Speakers, including Congressman Steve Israel and Israel's anti-terrorism expert Gen Amos Amir, will assess the missile threat and political background, and what can and should be done to ensure the safety of civil airliners. Contact or +44 20 8652 8718.

Source: Flight International