December 16, 2002
U.S. government agencies are seeking ways to protect
commercial airliners from attack by shoulder-fired
missiles, sources told The DAILY.
A three-day closed meeting on the subject in
Washington wrapped up Dec. 13, but the findings weren't
immediately known. If it's ultimately decided to put
electronic warfare defenses on airliners, however, the
government probably would have to foot the bill,
according to two sources familiar with the meeting.
The cost might be $1 billion.
Representatives of a number of agencies - including
the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of
Transportation, and the Departments of State and Defense
- are said to have met at the FBI's Hoover Building in a
classified session that began on Dec. 11.
Industry officials apparently weren't involved. The
meeting was prompted by a shoulder-fired missile attack
on an Israeli airliner as it departed Mombasa airport in
Kenya on Nov. 28. Two Russian-designed, heat-seeking
SA-7s missed their target, an Arkia Israeli Airlines
Boeing 757 headed for Tel Aviv. An Israeli-owned hotel
in Mombasa was bombed at about the same time, killing
16, including the three attackers.
President Bush has indicated the attacks were carried
out by al Qaeda, prompting concerns that U.S. airliners
could become targets of shoulder-fired missiles.
Airlines and the government have known for years that
this could be a problem, sources said Dec. 13. They also
said the airlines have resisted coming up with answers
because they didn't want to scare passengers, and
because of the potentially high cost.
The heads of major U.S. airlines met with Department
of Transportation Officials last month to discuss the
threat, but the Air Transport Association said its
members have no formal plans to deal with potential
missile attacks, Aerospace Daily affiliate Aviation
Conclusions of the Hoover Building meeting may go to
the White House, which would decide how to proceed,
sources said. BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman are
producing devices for the military that could be used on
BAE Systems' Information & Electronic Warfare Systems
(IEWS) unit, Nashua, N.H., said in response to a query
that it "provides a range of electronic warfare and
infrared self-protection systems principally for
military ships, ground vehicles, large helicopters and
fixed-wing aircraft." It said its Matador infrared
countermeasures (IRCM) system "is designed for
protecting small business jets and large [commercial]
Northrop Grumman is beginning to produce the Large
Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (LAIRCM) system for the
Air Force. It would be used on such transports as the
C-17 and C-130.
It also leads a team - including BAE Systems and
Boeing - that for about two years has been producing the
AN/AAQ-24(v) Nemesis Directed Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM)
system for C-130s and helicopters of the U.S. Special
Operations Command (SOCOM) and the United Kingdom
Ministry of Defence.
Bob Del Boca, vice president of IRCM programs at
Northrop Grumman's Defensive Systems Division, Rolling
Meadows, Ill., said in a telephone interview that this
system also will be installed on the Australia's
Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft, based on
the Boeing 737-700 and slated to become operational in
about 2006. "So," he said, "we do have installs that are
on ... aircraft" equivalent to airliners.
DIRCM for SOCOM and the MOD uses lamp technology to
jam the guidance system of a heat-seeking missile, while
DIRCM for Wedgetail uses a laser. When DIRCM was
designed in the mid-1990s, it was designed for upgrades,
such as laser technology.
Del Boca declined to "go the whole route of being
able to discuss what we could do" to assist the
airlines, but he said DIRCM would be a candidate. "I
think you pretty much come down to a system that would
be this type of system, and we're in production," he
said. But, "We'd look at it with the government, we'd
look at it with the airlines to assess the detailed
appropriateness of it."
Cost of such installations, he said, initially could
be about $2 million per aircraft. He added, however,
that Northrop Grumman is studying the issue and it
wouldn't be "at that $2 million price forever. We can
get the price down significantly in the developments
that we're doing ... we'd like to get it down to $1
[million] or less. ..." Even $1 million per aircraft,
however, may not be feasible for airlines, given their
already difficult financial straits, the sources said.
They added that multi-band laser technology, just
coming along, could be helpful for such applications
because it would mean smaller heads projecting into the
airflow, meaning less drag and therefore less effect on
fuel costs. But, they said, several installations per
aircraft may be needed to provide 360-degree coverage.
Airlines could put such systems only on planes
operating in potentially dangerous areas, they said, but
this would cut flexibility, and therefore increase cost.
- Rich Tuttle