Anti-missile protection bill launched in Congress

 - October 11, 2007, 6:32 AM

Federal legislation introduced last month would require surface-to-air missile (SAM) protection, similar to that now used on military transport aircraft, on all of the nearly 7,000 U.S.-registered jet airliners. The bill, coauthored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), directs that installations begin by the end of the year.

The proposed law (S.311 and H.R.580) would also authorize the DOT to provide necessary funding, which by some estimates would cost between $7 billion and $10 billion. It is not clear, however, from where this money would come. Airline passenger ticket fees are already climbing to pay for Transportation Security Administration programs, but the DOT inspector general has gone on record as saying that these fees raise “only a fraction” of the money the TSA needs.

Nevertheless, concerns have been growing since two shoulder-mounted SAMs were fired at an Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa, Kenya, late last year.

The legislation also calls for the National Guard and Coast Guard to patrol airport perimeters to prevent attacks by the launching of shoulder-fired missiles.

Airport Patrols Recommended
Meanwhile, an interagency task force reported to the National Security Council earlier this year that the first lines of defense against shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles (see AIN, January, page 1) would involve emergency inspections of major U.S. commercial airports and teaching local police and citizens how to spot terrorists assembling such missiles around an airport’s perimeter. The airport inspections would reveal how easy it would be (based on surrounding terrain features) for someone to launch missiles at aircraft landing or taking off.

Another government program would offer airline pilots specific training on handling their aircraft after one engine has been shot off. Onboard missile-defense systems are another subject of the task force’s research. The group is said to be studying technology from Raytheon, BAE Systems and two Israeli companies, Rafael and Elta, which said their military systems could be modified for installation on civilian aircraft at a cost of $1 million each.

The airline industry, already in dire financial straits, has spoken out in favor of the government shouldering the responsibility and cost for equipping airliners with such countermeasure technology. A spokesman for the Air Transport Association said, “As with any aspect of providing for our national defense, this subject is best addressed by our government.”