Antimissile technology tested on commercial airliner

Homeland Security Department

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A commercial airliner equipped with a laser-based, infrared antimissile system was tested yesterday morning for the first time by one of two companies tapped by the Homeland Security Department to develop such countermeasures.

In partnership with American Airlines’ Maintenance and Engineering Services, BAE Systems tested its missile protection system, called JETEYE, on a Boeing 767, which flew out of Forth Worth, Texas.

Burt Keirstead, the company’s counter-Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (Manpads) program director, said BAE conducted multiple simulated missile launches to determine how the JETEYE system would respond in flight. The company also tested the aircraft in different altitudes and environments to see how the protection system would respond, he added.

BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman received $45 million contracts in August 2004 to develop a commercial airliner protection system against surface-to-air missiles. Both are testing infrared technology that jams missile guidance systems.

“The purpose of the program is to ensure we’ve got commercially viable technology that would be available should the government decide to employ the technology,” he said during a press teleconference yesterday afternoon. “That’s what we’ve been up to in this two-year program.”

The JETEYE system, which is based on the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures system designed for military aircraft, costs about $1 million, Keirstead said, adding that it’s not ready for deployment yet.

“That’s really a policy decision that has a lot of other factors involved,” he added. “Certainly from demonstrating that the technology is available, we’ll feel confident that we’ve made some great progress in that regard.”

DHS officials will test and evaluate BAE’s system later this year at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., he said. The company expects to get Federal Aviation Administration certification in January. According to the Associated Press, Northrop Grumman also successfully tested its Guardian system Wednesday in California.

Nearly three years ago, DHS officials began planning for the potential for surface-to-air missile attacks against commercial airliners even though no specific intelligence existed that such threats existed. Although military planes have similar technologies, government officials say they are not easily adaptable and must be re-engineered for commercial airliner use. The department wants counter-Manpads systems to cost no more than $1 million.

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