10-12) 04:00 PDT Oklahoma City -- In
yet another reminder of the lurking threat terrorist missiles pose to
airliners, the Federal Aviation Administration has begun installing
anti-missile systems on its fleet of aircraft.
Northrop Grumman spokeswoman Ellen Hamilton confirmed
the $12.5 million contract to The Chronicle on Tuesday.
The first system was installed on a Bombardier
Challenger 601 aircraft by FAA personnel last week at the Mike Monroney
Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City. In coming days, the FAA plans to
install additional countermeasure systems on two additional Challenger
601s and one Challenger 604. The devices are designed to combat the
threat from so-called MANPADS, or Man-Portable Air Defense Systems.
The defenses are to be installed on FAA jets used to
inspect navigation beacons, radars and airport lighting atcommercial
The FAA would not comment on the installations.
The anti-missile device being installed is known as
LAIRCM, or Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures System, which detects
ultraviolet light coming from an attacking missile's exhaust and then
directs a pulsating laser beam at its homing device, or "seeker." The
laser sends false tracking information, causing the missile to lose
track of the target aircraft.
The Air Force already requires LAIRCM for large
transport aircraft that fly to and from Baghdad.
The FAA move is the latest in a stepped-up effort to
protect "commercial derivative" aircraft from missile attacks.
Commercial derivative aircraft are essentially
commercial airliners the government has modified for official use. The
twin presidential Air
Force One aircraft, which have missile defenses installed, are modified
By the end of the year, a project to install missile
defenses on the planes that transport the vice president, the first
lady, and the secretaries of state and defense is set to be completed.
The government has installed laser MANPADS defenses on
aircraft derived from Boeing 747s, Boeing 757s and Boeing 737s, which
are used for ferrying the president and other high government officials.
These three aircraft types represent 55 percent of the commercial
passenger airliner fleet, according to statistics provided by the Air
Transport Association, an industry group of the nation's largest
According to Jack Pledger, director of Infrared
Countermeasures Systems Business Development for Northrop Grumman Corp.,
the makers of LAIRCM, other large aircraft that are well known to air
travelers and are currently equipped with LAIRCM include the Airbus 330
and the L-1011.
Northrop Grumman and BAE North America are
participating in a Department of Homeland Security program designed to
ascertain whether anti-missile systems can be successfully installed and
operated on regular commercial aircraft.
As part of the Homeland Security counter-MANPADS
program, commercial versions of laser-based anti-missile systems from
Northrop and BAE are being tested on cargo versions of Boeing 767 and
747 aircraft, MD-10s and MD-11s. The program is expected to conclude in
March 2008, according to Homeland Security spokesman Christopher Kelly.
At that point, the protection systems will be removed from the planes.