BAE Systems tests airliner missile protection system

 - December 11, 2006, 10:44 AM

BAE Systems has begun trials of its Jeteye laser-based system for protecting commercial airliners from man-portable missile attack. These are due to be completed by the end of January, when a U.S. supplementary type certificate is due to be issued.

Installed on a Boeing 767, the Jeteye is one of two laser-based systems being tested under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program to test their effectiveness against man-portable air-defense system (manpads) attack. The other is being developed by Northrop Grumman and is being tested aboard a Boeing MD-11 cargo aircraft and a Boeing 747.

Fresh doubts have surfaced, however, about the validity of testing just one type of counter-manpads technology. A U.S. Congress working group has told the DHS it should instead be focusing on a layered approach to manpads protection which includes other technologies, instead of on laser-based systems alone.

The group points to the Raytheon airport-based Vigilant Eagle directed energy microwave system, which fires a high-energy pulse to destroy the missile after launch. It claims this is a far less expensive approach than mounting anti-manpads systems on every aircraft, but critics point out that it would not be affective against the longer-range manpads systems capable of bringing down an airliner after it had climbed away from the airport.  

The Jeteye system is flying aboard a Boeing 767 supplied by American Airlines Maintenance and Engineering Services and operating from Alliance Airport, Dallas, Texas. During the flight trials, the aircraft has flown over test equipment that simulates the heat and infrared output of a missile.

According to BAE program director Burt Keirstead, pilots will need minimal training on how to interface with the system’s autonomous operation. It is also intended that the system can be maintained by the airlines’ own mechanics without special equipment.

The DHS requirement for a counter-manpads system is that it cost under $1 million per aircraft, weigh less than 500 pounds and have a drag penalty less than one percent.

Northrop Grumman’s Guardian multiband laser missile protection system is mounted in a pod below the aircraft and uses sensors to detect a manpads launch, determine if it is a threat and activate a high-intensity infrared countermeasure system to track and knock out the missile. Testing is due to be completed in January 2006.