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Time to test the Guardian Missile Defense System For Commercial Aircraft

File image of a Manpad being demonstrated to fire.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jan 19, 2007
It finally happened. Five years and four months after Sept. 11 2001, an MD-10 aircraft flew out of Los Angeles International Airport this week to begin operational testing and evaluation of an anti-missile defense system to protect U.S. civilian airliners from ground-launched missiles.

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security team will carry out the testing and evaluation program on the long awaited Guardian system developed by the Northrop Grumman Corporation. The Guardian remains the front-runner to provide what is potentially an enormous and very lucrative contract to install a Counter-Man Portable Air Defense System, or C-MANPADS on all U.S. commercial airliners.

Northrop Grumman in a statement released this week described the new testing procedures as "phase III of the DHS-sponsored program."

"During the test and evaluation effort, which concludes in March 2008, nine MD-10 aircraft equipped with the Guardian system will be in continual revenue service operation," the company said.

Northrop Grumman described the Guardian as "a defensive aid utilizing proven military technology to defend against the threat posed by anti-aircraft, shoulder-fired missiles. Once launched, the missile is detected by the Guardian system, which then directs a non-visible, eye-safe laser to the seeker head of the incoming missile, disrupting its guidance signals."

"This milestone marks an important event for Northrop Grumman and the aviation industry. For the first time, we will be able to collect valuable logistics data while operating Guardian on aircraft in routine commercial service," said Robert L. DelBoca, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman's Defensive Systems Division. "We stand ready to protect America's flying public with the proven technology that we supply to our warfighters worldwide in operational theater."

Northrop Grumman said it had already "completed a 16-month flight test program in commercial test operational environments that included the use of a ground-based electronic missile surrogate to simulate the launch of a shoulder-fired missile toward aircraft during takeoff and landing."

"The tests were performed on an MD-11, an MD-10 and a B-747 aircraft. In each test, the Guardian system functioned as designed, automatically detecting the simulated launch and mock missile," the company said. "Had the threats been real, an invisible laser beam safe to humans would have disrupted the missile guidance system and protected the aircraft."

Northrop Grumman said the Guardian system "makes use of multi-band laser and other technologies from the company's military directional infrared countermeasures system."

Last Aguust we noted that Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems Electronics and Integrated Solutions had been awarded $55.4 million contracts for Phase III, or Tier III development of the DHS' C-MANPADS program. Northrop Grumman's Guardian is designed to detect an incoming missile and direct an invisible multi-band laser at its seeker head, disrupting its guidance system.

The system is based on existing military counter-measures technology and was adapted to MD-11 and Boeing 747 planes during a 16-month flight test program using simulated missile launches.

However, so far, progress on developing the system has proceeded at a glacial pace. Two and a half years ago, DHS gave Northrop-Grumman and BAE Systems $45 million each to work on adapting military missile defense systems for use by the airlines, but the job turned out to be more challenging than expected.

A departmental report to Congress first reported by Leslie Miller of The Associated Press and posted on the Web by government transparency campaigner Steven Aftergood last summer said it could take over two decades to equip the U.S. commercial air fleet with such military-style missile defense systems.

MANPADs are small heat-seeking missiles that target a planes engine. Terrorist groups around the world are already believed to have thousands of them in their arsenals. An al-Qaida linked group in Kenya used one in 2002 in a failed effort to shoot down a planeload of Israeli tourists. And an aircraft flying Sen. Diane Feinstein, D--Calif., into Baghdad was targeted by one two years ago.

Many homeland security experts in the United States are skeptical about the need for defenses against MANPADs. They have argued that no U.S. airliner has ever been shot down by one.

However, those who take the threat seriously cross the entire political spectrum from the libertarian right to the liberal Democratic left.

Military analyst Charles Pena warned in a study some years ago for the libertarian conservative Cato Institute in Washington that if any U.S. civilian airliner was downed by a MANPADs attack, the impact on the U.S. airline industry and the general domestic economy could be devastating. He therefore advocated taking the threat seriously and fast-tracking programs to develop counter-measures against it.

So far, despite the leisurely pace at which the DHS bureaucracy has approached the problem, and despite the genuine development problems Northrop Grumman engineers have had to tackle, the American people have been lucky. No U.S. airliner has been shot down by a MANPADs attack since Sept. 11, 2001. Nor, as far as is known, has any airliner within U.S. domestic air space been in serious risk from such an attack.

However the potential threat of such an attack certainly remains real. That is an excellent reason for the American public to wish Northrop Grumman and its development team well on their next round of tests for the Guardian.

Source: United Press International

Related Links
Aerospace News at SpaceMart.com
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Operational Testing And Evaluation Of Guardian Commercial Airline Anti-Missile System Begins
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Jan 18, 2007
An MD-10 aircraft in commercial revenue service with the Northrop Grumman Corporation Guardian system installation departed Los Angeles International Airport today, marking the beginning of the operational test and evaluation portion of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Counter-Man Portable Air Defense Systems (C-MANPADS) program.







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