Lasers to Shield Israeli Planes from Libyan Missiles

U.S. airlines reject similar anti-missile system, citing high cost.

ByABC News
November 11, 2011, 10:52 AM

Nov. 11, 2011 — -- Israel is reportedly speeding up plans to put an anti-missile laser system on its commercial airplanes amid fears missing Libyan rockets may have fallen into the hands of Palestinian militants -- a security move that a U.S. airline official said would not be worth the cost for the American fleet.

An Israeli defense official said today all Israeli passenger planes would be outfitted with a laser-based system meant to "blind" heat-seeking missiles "within months," about a year ahead of schedule, according to reports by The Associated Press and Reuters.

Though the system has been in development since 2002, Israeli defense officials said its implementation was put on the fast track after reports emerged that thousands of heat-seeking, shoulder-fired missiles were left unguarded in Libyan weapons depots and subsequently looted during the chaos of the revolution. Last month Egyptian authorities told The Washington Post they had intercepted some missiles in smuggling tunnels between the Sinai Peninsula and the Palestinian territory of Gaza, just miles from the Israeli border.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, has pushed for similar technology to be added to some American planes for years and renewed her efforts with the Libyan missile crisis in mind in September.

"For us to sit idly by and not do anything when we could protect two billion passengers over the next 20 years [with] a relatively small amount of money [from] the Department of Defense, I think that's malfeasance," Boxer said then. "I think that's wrong."

More than 40 civilian planes around the world have been hit by surface-to-air missiles since the 1970s according to the U.S. State Department. In 2003, Iraqi insurgents hit a DHL cargo plane with a missile in Baghdad. Though on fire, the plane was able to land safely. Four years later, militants knocked a Russian-built cargo plane out of the sky over Somalia, killing all 11 crew members.

According to Boxer, more than 500 "wide-bodied" aircraft should be outfitted with the system, which costs about $1 million per plane -- a similar per plane cost estimate Israeli officials reportedly attributed to their program.

READ: Al Qaeda Terror Group: We 'Benefit From' Libyan Weapons

Officials at the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security did not immediately return requests for comment on this report, but Steve Lott, a spokesperson for America's Air Transport Association, said the airlines and the U.S. government had repeatedly considered such a plan and repeatedly decided against it.

"This is not the first time there's been concern about anti-aircraft weapons some place in the world," Lott told ABC News. "I think that has been around and has existed for a while and again we keep coming back to the fact that the costs outweigh the benefit."

"A risk-based approach is that you focus your limited resources on areas of greatest threat," Lott said. "If... there's evidence that there's an influx of these weapons in the United States, that could certainly change the equation. But to date, that equation has been the same for years."

ABC News' Matthew Cole contributed to this report.

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