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Anti-Missile Defenses For Commercial Jets 594

The AP reports that the first anti-missile defense system has been installed for testing on a commercial jet, a FedEx cargo carrier. The system is intended to detect the launch of a shoulder-fired missile at takeoff or landing, and disable the missile with a laser beam. Sen. Barbara Baxter (D-California) is one of the supporters of the system. She and other members of Congress are hoping to equip all US commercial passenger liners with this system in 20 years, at a cost of billions of dollars. Is this good common sense or the costly future of a society hobbled by fear of terrorism?
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Anti-Missile Defenses For Commercial Jets

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  • Re:Senator who? (Score:4, Informative)

    by CmdrSlack555 ( 451965 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:05PM (#17665442)
    That'd be Barbara Boxer. WTG, crack editing staff!
  • Re:Anyone know (Score:5, Informative)

    by haeger ( 85819 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:09PM (#17665516)
    Well, it does seem to happen every now and then.
    Can't say which one was the last one though.

    The link. []


  • Re:Anyone know (Score:5, Informative)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:10PM (#17665536) Journal
    There was a missile fired at an Israeli passenger jet in Kenya on the same day as the hotel bombing there, a few years ago. Supposedly it was deflected by an ECM system that's standard (again, supposedly) on all Israeli passenger planes.

    How cost-effective this is on your JetBlue flight from Topeka to Boise is another question, of course.

  • Re:Anyone know (Score:4, Informative)

    by Grey Ninja ( 739021 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:10PM (#17665542) Homepage Journal
    Addendum to my previous post. (I was right. It was never).

    From TFA:

    No passenger plane has ever been downed by a shoulder-fired missile outside of a combat zone. But terrorists linked with al Qaeda are believed to have fired two SA-7 missiles that narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002.

    (Please note that SA-7 missiles are IR guided).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:10PM (#17665548)

    When the last time this system would have saved an aircraft?
    TWA Flight 800 []
  • Re:Brilliant! (Score:5, Informative)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:15PM (#17665626) Homepage Journal
    What a great idea! Now when the terrorists eventually take over another round of planes, they can effectively block missiles intended to shoot them down before reaching sensitive targets.

    The system will be mounted on the belly of the aircraft, so an air-to-air missile launched from above will not be affected by it. It's possible to perform aerobatics in a passenger aircraft (rolls and such) but even so it is highly unlikely that a system designed to detect the launch of a ground-to-air missile could do anything about air-to-air missiles. If they could, then every aircraft in the military arsenal of sufficient size to carry the system would have one already, for missile point defense in flight.

    In addition, passenger craft are subsonic (with a notable exception or two) while any contemporary jet is supersonic, and passenger craft are ungainly pigs compared to fighter aircraft. Thus you don't even need missiles; cannons would do the job just fine. You could literally line up and blow off the engines without substantial effort.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:26PM (#17665888)
    These systems blind the missile by painting it with a laser, disrupting the sensor at the tip of the missile. It doesn't seem like such a system will work unless the missile and laser are pointing at each other so a ground based system might be pointless.
  • Barbara Boxer is a Senator from California.

    Northrup Grumman makes this system, and it's a potential multi-billion dollar contract.

    Northrup Grumman is headquartered in Los Angelas, CA.

    I just wanted to point that out. Every other highly modded comment is pointing out how there are better ideas than this.
  • Re:Anyone know (Score:5, Informative)

    by russ1337 ( 938915 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:41PM (#17666158)
    >>>> I honestly don't know how the hell you would detect such a missile tracking you

    They detect the flame out the back of the missle. Chemicals given off by the rocket motor burn across the spectrum (visible, UV and Infra-red). The optical sensors on the aircraft pick up the burning, specifically in the UV range. Sunlight in this spectrum does not get through the upper atmosphere, so it is essentially "dark". Only a few other things emit at this range are things like arc-welders, but software can be used to eliminate these to improve the false alarm rate.

    >>> "As far as I knew, even military jets have no early warning of IR missiles. " Oh yes they do. []
  • by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:45PM (#17666230) Homepage Journal
    The 'Guardian' product is developed by Northrop Grumman, which, you guessed it! Has offices in California:

      Northrop Grumman Corporation
    Corporate Headquarters
    1840 Century Park East
    Los Angeles, California 90067-2199
    (310) 553-6262

    Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems
    One Northrop Grumman Avenue
    El Segundo, California 90245
    (310) 332-1000

    Northrop Grumman Space Technology
    One Space Park
    Redondo Beach, California 90278
    (310) 812-4321

  • by russ1337 ( 938915 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:51PM (#17666346)
    >>>"A shoulder fired rocket can not shoot that high......So ... they should just install them at big airports to protect all jets coming in or out."

    From here [] "Light to carry and relatively easy to operate, the FIM-92 Stinger is a passive surface-to-air missile, shoulder-fired by a single operator, although officially it requires two. The FIM-92B can attack aircraft at a range of up to 15,700 feet (4800 m) and at altitudes between 600 and 12,500 feet (180 and 3800 m)."

    So yeah, You are in danger anytime you're under 12,500 feet. Which is quite a large radius around an airport for the take off and approach phases, which could be behind hills, or miles out to sea.
  • Re:Brilliant! (Score:4, Informative)

    by johndiii ( 229824 ) * on Thursday January 18, 2007 @01:53PM (#17666380) Journal
    Actually, it will only work on the IR-guided missiles. This would include the vast majority of man-portable SAMs, but not something like an RPG. Though in trying to shoot down a plane a .50-caliber machine gun would probably work better than an RPG. The threat that they are trying to defend against is from an individual outside the airport, trying to shoot down an airliner from a short but significant distance away. Far enough to avoid being noticed (and quickly killed or arrested) is probably too far to have much assurance of a hit from an RPG.

    The laser system is apparently designed to spoof IR seekers (slightly better article []; company PR site []), which seems fairly intriguing. As a feasibility study, this is probably a good idea. But I think that it would be a waste of time and money to install it on airliners in general.
  • Re:Need? (Score:5, Informative)

    by beacher ( 82033 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @02:03PM (#17666576) Homepage
    I can tell you this based on my direct experience as a Stinger gunner.

    Shoulder fired anti aircraft missiles are built primarily to shoot combat jets out of the sky. The amount of explosives (less than a pound of something like HT3) is negligible. The missile's primary objective is to rip the skin open of the wings/fuselage, having the explosive go off inside the jet is a bonus. The sheer air friction of a torn fuselage will rip a small jet apart.

    Apply this to a commercial airliner. Most missiles will hit the fuselage, and lets assume a gaping hole was created. The most that will happen will be rapid decompression (at altitude), significant flight handling differences, and maybe some people will get sucked out of the plane. More than likely a commercial airliner would land after being hit with a shoulder fired SAM. The only chance of taking out a significant chunk of the plane would be to hit it just after takeoff and get the fuel tanks, but you can't exactly pick where you want the missile to hit the plane.

    They should invest the research funds towards making better baggage scanners.
  • by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @02:29PM (#17667084)
    Wouldn't it be better and cheaper to base this on the ground at the small proportion of airports used by large passenger aircraft, not on the aircraft themselves?

    A ground-based system wouldn't be able to blind a missile's seeker head with a laser, since the seeker is pointed *up*. They'd need to have surface-to-air missile sites with faster missiles designed to shoot down missiles before they hit the target. Sort of like the Nike system of the 50s through 70s, except that Nike missiles were only effective against relatively slow-moving and high-flying Soviet bombers. (The horse stables near where I grew up used to be a Nike base in the 60s.)


  • Re:Anyone know (Score:1, Informative)

    by aeryn_sunn ( 243533 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @02:39PM (#17667308)
    I agree...My karma got dinged in a recent iPhone discussion after I pointed out that 3G is a software issue and not a hardware one. My only mistake was not putting up a supporting link. Instead, I was modded down, but noone posted any cites to the contrary... yes, I am a Karma Whore.
  • Not to mention... (Score:5, Informative)

    by DG ( 989 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @02:50PM (#17667530) Homepage Journal
    ...the considerably unlikely chain of events that has to properly line up in order to result in a downed aircraft.

    1) First you have to get ahold of a missile. Hollywood notwithstanding, shoulder-launched SAMs are relatively rare, even in mainstream standing armies. The scales of issue just aren't all that large. They are expensive and fragile units, much more so than any other weapon, so they don't get handed out to just anyone.

    Probably the largest concentration was in North Vietnam during the 60's, but North Vietnam had tons of time to accumulate them, and a direct threat (daily US bombing raids) to counter.

    There just aren't a lot of them out there to be had.

    2) Then, if you can find one, it has to be operational. Explosives and electronics have shelf-lives, and as mentioned, these things are fragile. If it hasn't been well treated, there's a nontrivial chance that some critical component will fail to function, and it won't fire, guide, or explode.

    3) If you've got one and it is operational, then you have to find a trained operator. Even "fire and forget" missiles require some skill to operate, and even if the weapon is American-proof simple to use, the operator still needs to be familiar with the ideal operating envelope - what aspect should the target be engaged with (head-on? tailchaser? deflection?) Does the position of the sun matter? Do you aim at an engine, or centre of mass? Lead or lag?

    4) Assuming an operational missile and a trained operator who takes a good shot, the accuracy rate of these devices is not high. I'd imagine a commercial jet would be an easier target (although with cooler running turbofan engines, maybe not) but even so, there is a high statistical percentage of these missiles that will fail to impact even when fired in perfect conditions - they work best in volleys.

    5) Assuming a hit, the odds on downing the aircraft are not good. Airliners are big, solid aircraft, and shoulder-fired missiles by design cannot have very large warheads - you have to package propulsion, guidance, and warhead into something light enough to be carried by a single person. Being struck by a missile is certainly unpleasant, but I'd expect any modern airliner to be able to suffer catastrophic failure of a single engine and still be able to fly (long enough to get back down at least). That's not to say that the missile *couldn't* bring down a liner (sever the controls to a control surface and I think you've got a crash) but neither are you looking at a Hollywood style giant fireball.

    While it is certainly *possible* that one could experience a terrorist organization bringing together a fresh missile, a trained operator, and a lucky shot, it's not very *likely* - to the point where I think the defensive device is just silly.

  • by plantman-the-womb-st ( 776722 ) on Thursday January 18, 2007 @05:15PM (#17670676)
    As for the "religious sect" bullshit, that stuff for some reason was never a problem before we lead the insurrection into Iraq. So you agree that it was a problem. Funny how that slavery stuff was never a problem before the civil war! Just because something wasn't considered a problem before X happened, doesn't mean that it wasn't a problem.
    I had no idea I was typing with invisible ink. No. I said it was not a problem. I did not say it wasn't considered a problem. Previous to our most recent invasion this was not a problem. As in, it didn't happen. When I visited Baghdad University there were Sunni and Shiite staffers working together with the utmost respect for each other, the director of the department was even a Christian woman. Amazing how now such cooperation is a myth.

    Obviously your visit to Iraq didn't involve meeting and talking to too many Iraqis. Curious, was you visit before or after our insurrection?
  • by DavidShor ( 928926 ) <> on Thursday January 18, 2007 @11:22PM (#17676006) Homepage
    China(peoples republic of china) ratified the Kyoto accords, it's Taiwan(Republic of China) who did not. But lets go through the list:

    Afghanistan-During the time of the drafting, nobody but Pakistan recognized Afghanistan's government, so they were not invited.

    Andorra-They are really really small, with no industry whatsoever, I don't see why they would join.

    Angola - They have had a civil war to worry about for the last 30 years.

    Bosnia and Herzegovina- They were still occupied by NATO during the drafting.

    Brunei-They are a large oil exporter, no surprises here.

    Central African Republic- Civil War

    Chad - Civil War

    Comoros - Really, Really, small.

    São Tomé and Príncipe Sao- Really small islands off the coast of Africa.

    Montenegro - Did not even exist until 7 months ago

    Saint Kitts and Nevis - Really really small tourist based island economy.

    San Marino- They are one fucking city! They are not even in the UN!

    Côte d'Ivoire - Really bad civil war

    Republic of the Congo- Civil War

    Iraq - Sanctions would have conflicted with most of the Kyoto Protocol(The parts on carbon trading)

    Serbia- Did not exist until 7 months ago

    Somalia- Has not had a central government since 1991

    East Timor Timor-Leste - They control about half of a tiny island, was part of Indonesia at the time of drafting.

    Zimbabwe - has a evil dictator too busy destroying his citizen's homes to bother with it.

    Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Sahrawi Republic - They are claimed by Morocco, not recognized by... anyone.

    Palestinian National Authority - Not a country, Not recognized by... anyone.

    Republic of China(Taiwan) - Would not have been allowed to join even if they wanted to. Not diplomatically recognized by UN or the developed world.

    Holy See - Granted Observer Status in the UN, about the same status as the Knights Hospitallers

Torque is cheap.