Aftermath of a crash:

FAA begins equipping its jets with anti-missile system

Move is latest to protect aircraft from terror attack

 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.

Stinger Missile

 The defenses are to be installed on FAA jets used to inspect navigation beacons, radars and airport lighting atcommercial airports.

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 Boeing 747s.

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 airlines.

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.

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