Raytheon said yesterday that it has developed a high-powered microwave beam to defend airliners from missiles and is urging the U.S. government to deploy it...
LE BOURGET, France — Raytheon said yesterday that it has developed a high-powered microwave beam to defend airliners from missiles and is urging the U.S. government to deploy it at major airports to foil possible terrorist attacks.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already acknowledged concerns about the potential for attacks on jets from shoulder-fired missile launchers. In August, it awarded two $45 million contracts to Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman and Britain’s BAE Systems to develop anti-missile lasers for commercial planes.
But Raytheon, a Waltham, Mass.-based defense electronics supplier, argued in a presentation at the Paris Air Show that its ground-based system is more cost-effective and, unlike the onboard alternatives, already has been tested in the field.
Its technology, called Vigilant Eagle, uses a network of infrared sensors to set up a “protective dome” around an airport. When a surface-to-air missile is detected, a billboard-sized microwave gun blasts the missile with a high-energy microwave beam, confusing its guidance system and preventing it from finding its target.
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Mike Booen, vice president for directed energy weapons at Raytheon Missile Systems, said a prototype had “proven effective” in tests but he declined to give a success rate.
Tucson, Ariz.-based Raytheon Missile Systems has also offered to carry out further trials in the United States or at Iraq’s Baghdad International Airport — where a DHL freighter made an emergency landing last year after being struck by a shoulder-launched missile.
In 2002, two missiles narrowly missed an Israeli charter plane carrying 271 people after takeoff from Mombasa, Kenya. U.S. airports including Los Angeles have since tightened security in response to the threat posed by portable missile launchers, which are readily available for as little as $2,000 on the black market, police say.
Raytheon argues that 70 percent of U.S. inbound and outbound flights could be protected by equipping the busiest 30 domestic airports, at a cost of $25 million each.
By contrast, Northrop Grumman says the cost of its onboard system will work out to less than $1 million per plane — although both Raytheon and Rand, the defense research group, say the figure could be considerably higher.
The Department of Homeland Security said it does not rule out the eventual deployment of a ground-based system if it were to prove more effective.
But Jack Pledger, Northrop’s director of infrared countermeasures, said deploying a ground-based system to the biggest airports would simply invite attacks at smaller ones.