Magazine article National Defense

More Questions Than Answers on Counter Missile Technology

Magazine article National Defense

More Questions Than Answers on Counter Missile Technology

Article excerpt

The Department of Homeland Security, which was tasked by Congress to study options to protect commercial airliners from shoulder-fired missiles, sent a relentlessly downbeat report to Capitol Hill, detailing just how many hurdles it must overcome to outfit every jetliner with protective devices.

On the technological side, results of preliminary tests show a laser-based system "partially meeting the DHS performance requirements." But these tests are being carried out on the Boeing 767 and McDonnell Douglas MD-11, which comprise only 5 percent of the domestic commercial fleet. Federal Aviation Administration certification for the technology will have to be approved separately for each aircraft type. There is still much work to be done on the narrow-body, regional jets that the commuter airlines use. Most shoulder-fired missiles are designed to take down smaller aircraft such as these.

Logistically, there are still few answers on the maintenance burden for airlines. However, inflation and fuel are now expected to cost the airline $365 per flight, up from $300 at the beginning of the project. During Phase Ill of the development process, counter-missile technology will be installed on courier jets to give engineers real-world data.

"Until a significant number of [counter-missile] units are installed and maintained by airlines, uncertainty regarding operation and maintenance costs will remain," the report said.

On the bureaucratic and legal side, complications may arise when flying aircraft overseas. …

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