Three firms to study MANPADS tech

Department of Homeland Security

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Homeland Security Department officials announced today that they have selected three firms to help adapt military technology that counters threats from shoulder-fired missiles for commercial airliners.

DHS officials announced contract negotiations with BAE Systems PLC, Northrop Grumman Corp. and United Air Lines Inc. to help determine if there is viable technology, such as laser or pyrotechnic countermeasures, against the potential threat from surface-to-air missiles, known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS.

The companies will each get $2 million and have six months to develop a detailed design and analysis of the economic, maintenance and manufacturing issues to support such a system. One or two firms will be selected for the second phase, which will involve development of demonstrations and prototypes to be tested.

Officials said the entire program might take 18 to 24 months. DHS officials have budgeted $60 million for fiscal year 2004, and the Bush administration will request an equal amount for fiscal year 2005.

The timing of today's announcement didn't reflect any imminent threat, but is part of an ongoing effort, said Asa Hutchinson, DHS undersecretary for border and transportation security. Planning began more than a year ago with 21 federal offices and agencies, including DHS, the Transportation and Treasury Departments, the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration.

"There is no single solution to thwart the threat of MANPADS to commercial aircraft," said Charles McQueary, undersecretary for the DHS science and technology division. "We're now taking steps to corral required expertise to see if an existing technology can be successfully adapted to defend commercial aircraft."

Technological countermeasures must have the ability to be safely deployed near civilian populations, and be accurate, reliable and affordable, McQueary said.

Adapting military technology for civilian use is not an easy undertaking, said Penrose Albright, assistant secretary for science and technology for DHS. Officials will evaluate the systems based on technical performance, systems maturity, engineering and total cost of ownership, Albright said. He would not say if airlines would be mandated to integrate such technology or pay for it.

"It is premature to speculate on how the implementation of this may actually occur until we've gotten [the facts] on the table in regard to performance and cost," he said. "But clearly the decision to deploy is going to be a decision that's going to be made with a lot of help from Congress and with a lot of help from the administration."

Homeland Security officials issued a solicitation last October, attracting 24 companies. Five contractors were selected to provide full proposals based on 14 technical and six management areas. BAE, Northrop and United were selected to design the antimissile countermeasures. The other two firms, who were not identified, are in discussions with Defense officials regarding other long-range plans with the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

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