NY Arrest Turns Up Heat On Missile Defense For Airliners


The arrest in New York last week of four people who allegedly planned (among other things) to fire shoulder-launched missiles at aircraft happened at almost the same time a cargo jet was flown by Homeland Security over Memphis to test onboard missile-defense equipment. The New York foursome’s alleged plot was to fire missiles at Air National Guard C-5A or C-130 refuelers operating at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y., but the idea that the missiles could be used on commercial airliners has clearly not left the minds of U.S. authorities. Dozens of terrorist organizations are thought to have, or potentially have access to, shoulder-launched stinger missiles. Defensive systems are already deployed on specific aircraft in this country (usually aboard aircraft that serve government officials) and are more widely used abroad, specifically in Israel where new aircraft will be armed with defensive systems. Saab, which is developing a civil anti-missile system, includes in its promotional brochure that there have been more than 35 attempts to shoot down civilian aircraft in the past 10 years, resulting in at least 24 crashes and the deaths of some 500 people. Homeland Security Program Manager Kerry Wilson says the agency is now flying real-world test scenarios with similar systems to check the response of defense systems amidst the active interference of radio signals and other technological clutter.

The Department of Homeland Defense’s program is a response to a 2003 directive from Congress that the agency adapt the technology to commercial aircraft use. In light of recent events, Long Island Congressman Steve Israel pushed the case by publicly stating that anti-missile protection systems cost less money than an advanced onboard entertainment system. Saab’s flight trials for its civil anti-missile detection system, dubbed CAMPS, are about to begin and aims to become the first local system certified by EASA.