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Anti-Missile Technology To Be Tested on Commercial Jets 490

Posted by Zonk
from the because-our-airline-tickets-were-too-cheap dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "As many as three American Airlines passenger jets will be outfitted this spring with laser technology intended to protect planes from missile attacks. The tests, which could involve more than 1,000 flights, will determine how the technology holds up under the rigors of flight. The technology is intended to stop attacks by detecting heat from missiles, then responding in a fraction of a second by firing laser beams to jam the missiles' guidance systems. A Rand study in 2005 estimated it would cost about $11 billion to protect every US airliner from shoulder-fired missiles. Over 20 years, the cost to develop, procure and operate anti-missile systems could hit $40 billion."
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Anti-Missile Technology To Be Tested on Commercial Jets

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  • Israeli lobby (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:58PM (#21936502)
    This is the work of the Israeli lobby. The technology used is designed by and used on El-Al (the national Israeli airline). They've been heavily campaigning in the US for a contract. Quite frankly those $11 billion dollars belong somewhere else.
  • by canuck57 (662392) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:10PM (#21936634)

    Not a single passenger jet has been downed from the type of missiles these "high power lasers" are supposed to be able to prevent. Not a single one.

    You may want to reconsider that statement, Iran Air Flight 655 [wikipedia.org]. But granted, it was not an American flight. But you did mention type. But I would consider any such defence good other than the cost. At the $$$ they are talking about, a $5000 flight each way to pay for it sounds pricey.

  • Re:Feed the fear (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ada_Rules (260218) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:11PM (#21936640) Homepage Journal
    I know this is slashdot and we love to hit the "right wing" but the biggest supporters of this stuff are Chuck Schumer (D)

    http://www.senate.gov/~schumer/SchumerWebsite/schumer_around_ny/record.cfm?id=264754& [senate.gov]

    and Barbara Boxer (D)

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=politics&id=4447425 [go.com]

    Of course what is really happening with these two is that they don't care that much about the technology or the program but by pushing for it they can say "I told you so" if anything were to get shot down.

  • by Matt_R (23461) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:16PM (#21936694) Homepage

    You may want to reconsider that statement, Iran Air Flight 655.
    You may want to reconsider that statement, Iran Air 655 was downed by a radar guided SAM [wikipedia.org] launched from a warship. These lasers are to stop man portable [wikipedia.org] IR guided missiles, and would do nothing to stop a radar guided missile
  • Re:Israeli lobby (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zeinfeld (263942) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:26PM (#21936790) Homepage
    This is the work of the Israeli lobby. The technology used is designed by and used on El-Al (the national Israeli airline). They've been heavily campaigning in the US for a contract. Quite frankly those $11 billion dollars belong somewhere else.

    The article says that the system being tested was developed by BAE which is a British company.

    Hard to see how BAE could be very close to an Israeli defense company given that 1) the largest single contract BAE has outside NATO is to supply aircraft to Saudi Arabia and 2) the UK government imposed a partial embargo on sales of military equipment to Israel after Israel broke a previous undertaking not to use UK supplied arms in the occupied territories.

    This is not about pork, that will come later on. Its about trying to create the illusion of safety and quite likely give a pump to the start wars boondoggle. Its a pretty idiotic idea regardless. The way to stop people shooting down planes is to hand out a slotting to anyone who does: an accountability approach.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:34PM (#21936854)
    About as useful as having a lifejacket under your seat. A large commercial jet has never managed to make a water landing.

    Wrong. [youtube.com]

    Don't you feel stupid now?
  • by timeOday (582209) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:45PM (#21936956)
    From your link: "Four days later, a Belarus official confirmed the plane had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade." The proposed system dazzles IR sensors with a laser. It would do nothing against RPG's, which are unguided.
  • by squidguy (846256) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:56PM (#21937036)
    Not a single passenger jet has been downed from the type of missiles these "high power lasers" are supposed to be able to prevent. Not a single one.
    True, but it's only a matter of time (or semantics). Look at what happened in Baghdad to a DHL A300: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_Baghdad_DHL_attempted_shootdown_incident [wikipedia.org]
    It could have just have easily been carrying passengers (vice a cargo variant) elsewhere in the world, like an El Al flight out of Mombassa. Only because of the skill of the aircrew and a lot of luck were they able to land without hydraulics using differential thrust. And, had the flight gone on any longer, chances are the wing spar would have burned through resulting in a catastrophic crash. As it happens, the airframe is a total loss.
  • by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday January 06, 2008 @09:10PM (#21937126)
    Not a single passenger jet has been downed from the type of missiles these "high power lasers" are supposed to be able to prevent. Not a single one.

    Only through dumb luck.

    Example 1. [nytimes.com]

    Example 2. [nytimes.com] (Be sure to scroll down and read about the Israeli 757 that was fired upon in Kenya.)

    Example 3. [aircraftre...center.com] (Ok, not a passenger plane, but the terrorists apparently thought it was... and it is a common airliner.)

    It's only a matter of time, and everybody knows it.

    You know what the FAA does when it has a situation that it knows will eventually result in a disaster costing hundreds of lives? They try to fix it. That's part of their job.
  • by Cyberax (705495) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @09:27PM (#21937236)
    That's just not true. There were several water landings of large airliners:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ditching#Commercial_aircraft [wikipedia.org]

    The most striking one: http://www.nevariver.ru/airplane.php [nevariver.ru] (it's in Russian, but you can see the photo).
  • by x2A (858210) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @09:55PM (#21937436)
    Well the pilots survived that crash landing... so that's something?

    Actually this crash landing was pretty exceptional in that 50 people survived the 200mph crash landing. Many of those that died died after the crash from drowning[1] [wikipedia.org], as they prematurely inflated their life jackets which made it impossible to get out of the plane as soon as the water level had risen above the level of the doors.

    Your chances aren't great, since the year 2000, of 652 people involved in commercial jet emergency water landings, only 10 have survived[2] [yahoo.com].

    I'd probably prefer to be blown up by a missile, but I couldn't say for sure until I've tried both.

  • by LatencyKills (1213908) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:02PM (#21937470)
    I work for the company that builds it. I'll even go so far as to say that I had a hand in the design of several key systems and leave it at that. Point 1: The system proposed here is a variant of a system that is mounted on many military aircraft. It uses a laser to inject false tracking information into IR guided missiles. These missiles do not, for the most part, use focal plane arrays or any other similar technology. They have one pixel, and they use spatial modulation to generate corrective track and guidance information. The jamming laser cannot blind other pilots, shoot down other aircraft, or be used by the missile to generate valid track information (a concept we call home on jam). These systems are tested through many progressive levels using pieces of and then finally entire shoulder fired missile systems - real missiles, right out of the tube, with mass equivalents inserted in place of the warhead package. We shot real missiles at these systems dozens of times, and they work really, really well. Point 2: The shoulder fired threat is real. There have been attempts to smuggle missiles into this country, as well as shoot down commercial aircraft (in Kenya, not in the US). They are cheap, readily available on the black market, and any yahoo with five minutes training can use one. Point 3: Given both of the above, and with my paycheck riding on it, I still think it's a poor use of money. If you want to dollar cost average lives, I think there are other targets which have a greater possiblity for loss of life that can be protected for less money. What about using a SAR to try and keep pipe bombs out of malls or schools? What about a tracking system to keep an eye on LNG tanker trucks, a big mobile explodely temptation to terrorists if I ever saw one. 9-11 involved aircraft, but beyond that I think we're fixating a little too much.
  • Re:how many? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Keebler71 (520908) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:36PM (#21937690) Journal
    Uh...I don't think you understand how these systems work. The missile *does* lock onto the laser source - by design. The sensor package then drives the seeker guidance unit to a different trajectory until the aircraft is no longer in the field of view of the seeker (in the process bleeding most of its energy as well). It is kind of like dragging a bull around by the ring through its nose.
  • Several incidents (Score:3, Informative)

    by Simonetta (207550) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:48PM (#21937780)
    There have been several incidents where commercial airliners have been shot down. Nearly all were downed by official military. The fact that there have been so few attests to the professionalism of the various militaries.

        In the late 1960's, Israel shot down a Jordanian airliner. In the early 1980's, an Iranian airliner was shot down by an American missile. The American destroyer was off-shore an Iranian city (Abidan, I believe) and was being attacked at the time by several Iranian PT boats. The US destroyer's captain ordered a missile launch against the PT boats, but the missile locked onto a commercial airliner that was on its final approach and blew it up. This incident scared the shit out everyone and caused major revisions in technology and tactics. The Iranians never attacked American warships with PT boats; the Americans didn't park warships so close to the Iranian shore; and an extensive rewriting of the software on the AGEIS ? system was done to prevent a reoccurence of this accident. It hasn't happened since.

        In the mid-1980's a Korean 747 was shot down by the Soviets after flying near a secret Soviet airbase in Siberia. All the questions were never answered, but it has never happened again.

        In 1987, Islamic terrorists working with Libya blew up a British Airways 747 over Scotland.

        In 2000, the Islamic terrorist group, al-Qaida, attempted to blow up between six and twelve commercial airliners flying across the Pacific at the same time. This plot was discovered at the last minute. In 2001, the same group hijacked four airliners at the same time and crashed them into buildings, killing thousands of people in the USA. A year later, a passenger attempted to blow up a jet mid-flight with explosives packed in his shoes. He was subdued while attempting to get the fuse lit. A few years after that, Islamic terrorists based in the UK attempted to cause explosions on several airliners by mixing ordinary household liquids into explosive combinations while the plane's were in flight. This plot was foiled by inspectors who noticed several passengers attempting to board the aircraft while carrying unusually large amounts of legal but curious household chemicals. An example would be swimming pool chlorine mixed with automobile engine degreaser. These two chemicals ignite into a very hot flame when mixed, which occasionally burns up a suburbanite's car on their way home from CostCo.

          The most noticeable facet about commercial airliners being shot down by air forces or terrorists is how rarely it happens. Airlines fly constantly in and around militarily hot areas. But airlines and the international air organizations work constantly to make sure airliners stick to established routes and have active ID transponders. Plus, they've made it quite clear to all the third-world dictators and would-be dictators still fighting in the jungle that their own 747 (flying as the trophy airship of the countrie's national airline) would be totally unwelcome at London, Paris, or Zurich airport if they took a notion to fucking around with commercial airliners. That keeps everyone on the straight and narrow.
  • Re:how many? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dun Malg (230075) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @11:19PM (#21937972) Homepage

    I could only see that being hard to defeat if the laser-firing device is dropped from the plane. Otherwise - if the missile identifies the source of the laser and homes on it, why would it steer out of the sensor FOV?
    Look, if you don't know how IR guided missiles work, it's no use trying to make random guesses why this system wouldn't work, in your mind. The simple explanation is that the laser basically illuminates the edge of the IR sensor, making the missile think the target is way off to the side. The missile doesn't follow the laser, the laser feeds the sensor false information based on the fact that such IR systems are designed to follow radiant heat signatures.
  • Re:how many? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Beefpatrol (1080553) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @11:22PM (#21937988)
    Keep in mind that most of the missiles that would be fired at an aircraft were designed a long time ago. All but the newest generation do not have CCD sensors in them. The heat seeking missiles need to detect wavelengths in the mid to far IR wavelength range (4um to ~10um) or so, and none of the normal semiconductor stuff can see those wavelengths. Until relatively recently, the detectors were all cryogenically cooled single pixel or quadrant detectors. The seeker heads on those consist of a rotating head (inside a dome transparent to the wavelengths in question -- I can't remember off the top of my head, but I think they're sapphire usually,) on to which the detector is mounted on a bracket that can be swept over an angle between straight forward and some amount off axis. When the missile is in flight and the bracket is pointing straight forward, the missile is dead on, as the signal fades, it turns the bracket off to the side a bit to sweep a cone out in front of the missile. At some rotational angle, it gets the maximum signal, and so it knows to turn in that direction. The head spins at a few thousand RPMs. Those seeker heads are marvels of engineering if you ask me. And yes, many of the missiles do not store their cryogenic material internally -- for those that are fired from a plane, the LN2 or whatever is usually piped into the missile when it is armed, and it can only stay armed for so long before the cold stuff is gone and the missile will be unable to seek. Most of the ways of confusing such a missile involve identifying the missile type, and therefore the seeker head, and pulsing a laser at it out of phase with the signal from the hot parts of the target so that the missile spirals off in the wrong direction. So no, you can't defeat it with a pinhole. :)
  • by justinlee37 (993373) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:08AM (#21938284)

    If one of your loved ones were on such a flight, would you still be so coldly analytical? Suppose it were your wife? Your son? Your parents? Of course it's worth the money. Every human life is priceless to their dear ones.

    What if we spend the $40 billion protecting the planes, but because we spent the money there we weren't able to protect X number of young girls who were abducted from urban areas without enough police presence and street lights? Would you still be so hotly irrational?

    It's impossible to know where tragedy will strike, so it's best to spend your money protecting against the most probable attacks (since you only have so much of it to spend).

    Opportunity cost [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:how many? (Score:3, Informative)

    by CodeBuster (516420) on Monday January 07, 2008 @01:28AM (#21938738)
    MOD THE PARENT UP

    The guidance package in IR missiles is taking direct heat inputs from the external environment, perhaps with processing and filtering of signals first or perhaps without (i.e proportional signals, converted directly to electrical current, are amplified to directly drive the electro-mechanical servos on the missile stabilizer fins), but regardless the laser is interpreted as a potential input signal from the target. There is no simple AND reliable way to detect that the laser input is part of a defense or countermeasure and not legitimate data from the target (say engine heat) or at least not without varying degrees of uncertainty. It might be possible to combine other systems in the missile, ultraviolet or optical for example, to do differential analysis and better separate out false signals but that probably wouldn't be very simple to do compared to basic IR tracking of the type that would be vulnerable to this countermeasure.
  • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Monday January 07, 2008 @01:57AM (#21938942) Journal
    Hundreds of lives.

    Hundreds.

    Billions of dollars to save hundreds of lives.

    Amazing.

    Thanks for the humorous diversion. Can we get back to spending my money on something more productive, now?

    Sincerely,

    Taxpayer

  • by Paul Jakma (2677) <paul+slashdot@jakma.org> on Monday January 07, 2008 @09:57AM (#21941440) Homepage Journal
    Hmm, despite being modded informative, the parent is quite badly informed in spots:

    - The US warship, the USS Vincennes, which shot down the Iranian Airbus was *NOT* under attack by boats and the aircraft was not on final approach. Crew believed the Airbus was an Iranian F-14 and deliberately shot it down.

    The straits of Hormuz are so narrow, it's impossible to *not* be near the Iranian shore. The same holds true, to a lesser degree, for the entire gulf.

    - "In 1987, Islamic terrorists working with Libya blew up a British Airways 747 over Scotland."

    Several problems with this statement: Firstly, The plane was not "shot down", as per the lead-in to your comment. Secondly, they were not Islamic terrorists - they were believed to be agents of the intelligence service(s) of Libyan (exactly who is unknown, the man convicted for the bombing may well end-up being found to have been wrongfully convicted, and may be released).

    - "In 2000, the Islamic terrorist group, al-Qaida, attempted to blow up between six and twelve commercial airliners flying across the Pacific at the same time. This plot was discovered at the last minute."

    This sounds a bit speculative, and you've provided little information. Can you provide more details and/or references?

    - "A few years after that, Islamic terrorists based in the UK attempted to cause explosions on several airliners by mixing ordinary household liquids into explosive combinations while the plane's were in flight. This plot was foiled by inspectors who noticed several passengers attempting to board the aircraft while carrying unusually large amounts of legal but curious household chemicals."

    This is utter rubbish.

    Those charged had not bought tickets, so there's no way this plot could have been foiled just prior to boarding. Some didn't even have passports. Most of those arrested were not charged. The rest have not yet been tried. Even if those charged were plotting to blow up planes (and there is doubt), there is a shadow, nay a huge pall, over the viability of liquid, binary explosives being used by passengers to blow up aircraft.

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas l'Informatique. -- Bosquet [on seeing the IBM 4341]

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