According to Homeland Security, at the cost of $29 million, three American Airlines Boeing 767-200s that fly between New York and California daily, will be outfitted with anti-missile devices, this spring, as part of a test aimed at defending against terrorists armed with shoulder-fired projectiles.
The devices will be anti-missile laser jammers that will be mounted on the belly of the plane, between the wheels. It will work with sensors that are also mounted onto the plane that will detect a heat-seeking missile and shoot a laser at it to send the missile off course.
These devices have been tested on cargo planes but according toBurt Keirstead, director of commercial aircraft protection at BAE Systems, which developed the anti-missile device, "this is the first time these systems have been tested on actual passenger airlines in commercial service.It's the ultimate consumer use of the equipment."
Although no actual missiles will be test fired at the planes, the purpose of the test is to monitor how well the technology works, how the system affects fuel consumption and how much maintenance is required.
Despite the fact that no shoulder-fired missile has been used in any attempt against a jet on U.S.soil, Homeland Security has previously warned about the possibility because they are light weight weapons that can be bought cheaply (few hundred dollars) on the blackmarket.
John Hotard, American Airlines spokesperson, says the company officials agreed to participate in the tests in case Congress eventually requires airlines to install the devices, but that they are "philosophically opposed" to anti-missile technology on commercial planes.
According to Rand, in a 64 page PDF report, chapter 2 titled, "The Threat: A clear and present danger?"(page 23 of the whole report) they conclude at the end of that chapter that "as measures are taken to preclude 9/11-style attacks (e.g., improvement at screening in airports, deployment of air marshals on aircrafts, strengthening of cockpit doors), attacking aircraft with MANPADS will unavoidably become more attractive to terrorists."
MANPAD stands for man-portable air defense system.
This became a justified concern after 9/11 and a case in August of 2003 shows a clear example if the reasoning behind this new test.
Hemant Lakhani, who plotted to sell a surface-to-air missile to what he thought was a Muslim extremist, was arrested at the end of a yearlong investigation by U.S. agents, aided by Russian officials, who posed as the Muslim extremists to buy a missile, and with full knowledge and cooperation of U.S. officials, the missile (rendered inoperative before shipping) arrived in a port at Newark New Jersey and the arrest was made.
Lakhani was convicted in April 2005 of attempting to provide material support to terrorists, unlawful brokering of foreign defense articles and attempting to import merchandise into the U.S. by means of false statements, plus two counts of money laundering. He has been sentenced to 47 years in prison.
In March of 2006 ABC did an in-depth report on the threat of shoulder-fired missiles pose to airliners, citing examples of 24 civilian aircraft that had been brought down by shoulder-fired missiles, and more than 500 people have been killed, worldwide.
"Although all the attacks to date have been on foreign soil, a potential attack on an American commercial jet remains a very serious concern. They say that an estimated 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles, most of them made in Russia, are for sale on worldwide black markets."
Acording to U.S. News & World Report, in April of 2007, this issue has seen delays since 2004, because although the anti-missile devices worked properly after two round of testing, the Department of Homeland Security reported that they broke down too often to meet reliability goals.
More incidents can be found over at the NorthEast Intelligence Network where they provide radio transmissions as well as some very interesting radar images.