BAE, NG Bid To Test Counter-MANPADS On Airliners

Both BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman are seeking to win a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contract to test their laser jamming technologies' ability to protect passenger aircraft from shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missile attacks, company officials confirmed Sept. 13.

Both BAE and Northrop Grumman have been using cargo aircraft to test the feasibility of equipping scheduled commercial flights with protection from small missiles known as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).

It would mark the first time directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) technology - developed to protect military aircraft - has been used on a civilian passenger aircraft in the DHS program (DAILY, June 15).

In the third and final phase of DHS's four-year counter-MANPADS study, BAE has equipped a single ABX Air Boeing 767-200F cargo aircraft with its JetEye technology. Northrop Grumman, which uses similar technology in its Guardian counter-MANPADS system, has equipped 11 FedEx cargo aircraft in regular service, including an MD-11, DC-10 and a Boeing 747, with Guardian.

Prodded by Congress, DHS has spent more than $121 million studying counter-MANPADS technology, but the department has not committed to purchasing any device once Phase III testing is complete in March 2008.

But lawmakers inserted language into the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill, signed last October by President Bush, which sets aside $30 million to $40 million to evaluate the feasibility of placing counter-MANPADS technology on a passenger aircraft.

Both Northrop Grumman and BAE are awaiting DHS' decision, which could come as soon as Sept. 17. The department also has issued a broad agency announcement seeking carriers willing to test the technology on their aircraft, said Larry Orluskie, a spokesman for the DHS Science & Technology Directorate, which has been running the counter-MANPADS program.

BAE officials said last January that after Phase III, they wanted to continue testing the technology on the commercial airliners of team partner American Airlines.

About 40 civilian aircraft have been struck by MANPADS resulting in some 25 crashes and 400 deaths since the 1970s, the U.S. State Department estimates. Officials believe there are more than 750,000 MANPADS around the world, but they don't know how many have made their way into the arsenals of terrorists.

Congress also has required DHS to revisit previously rejected counter-MANPADS technologies, including ground-based systems. DHS is also studying the use of a high altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to protect airports from MANPADS.