BAE Granted $45M to Build Airliner Missile Defenses as Debate Erupts in Congress
BAE Systems has been granted US$45 million by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to build and test laser based prototypes of missile defense systems for commercial airplanes against shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
Meanwhile, successor legislation to bill H.R. 580 will soon be re-introduced by Rep, David Israel (D-NY) in the 109th U.S. Congress. The bill may require commercial airplanes in U.S. airspace to be equipped with technology to guard against shoulder-fired missiles, a controversial measure that the airline industry is resisting. Congressional opinion is also divided.
The Department of Homeland Security has already initiated a US$10 billion project to provide missile protection systems for commercial airlines. The system being developed by BAE Systems uses lasers to "blind" the missile, in a manner similar to Northrop-Grumman’s LAIRCM. Sensors detect the threat and automatically focus laser energy on the missile’s guidance system, throwing its seeker off course.
Under the proposed legislation, meanwhile, the federal government would purchase the antimissile systems, but the airline industry would have to pay to maintain the equipment. Moreover, the airline industry would have to buy antimissile technology for any new aircraft entering the commercial fleet.
The airline industry is opposed to such measures, while Congressional opinion is divided.
An analysis by the Rand Corp. this year said it would cost $11 billion to put a single laser-jammer on each of the 6,800 U.S. commercial airliners (Airline Business Report, Feb. 14, p. 1). The airline industry contends that the costs could balloon well beyond that and argues that the maintenance costs borne by airlines would be an enormous financial burden. On the other hand, a new analysis by the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute says the economic consequences of a missile strike against a single commercial aircraft could be devastating.
To date, there have been 35 attacks by terrorists on commercial aircraft around the world, leading to 24 crashes and 600 fatalities.
Last year, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), introduced S. 311, a companion bill to Israel’s H.R. 580. Boxer’s office has not yet said whether she will reintroduce a revised measure in this session. Republicans on the House Committee on Homeland Security rejected an attempt by Democrats in late April 2005 to provide additional research funding to combat missiles fired at commercial aircraft.
- Aviation Today (May 12, 2005) – Heated Debate Will Erupt In New Congress Over Putting Antimissile Systems On Aircraft
- Strategiy (May 10, 2005) – BAE Systems to build and test airlines laser defence system
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