The use of Guardian or another laser-based anti-missile system on commercial aircraft is probably a matter of when, not if. But until planes have the technology installed, other measures will have to be taken to protect against attacks from MANPADS. One important measure is to improve airport perimeter security. Raytheon’s Vigilant Eagle program is designed to do just that. A ground-based system that uses a grid of sensors strategically planted around an airport facility, Vigilant Eagle can detect a missile fired towards any arriving or departing aircraft within the boundaries of the airport facility. One sensor will detect the missile, sending a signal to another sensor station, which transmits a microwave beam to kill the missile-guiding system.
Not all measures are this costly. Air-traffic procedures can be revised so that jets no longer approach runways in gradual descent patterns. By adopting spiral descent patterns and steep, rapid ascents, commercial aircraft can reduce the amount of time they are vulnerable to modern MANPADS. And for jets that do get hit by a missile, those designed with redundant systems and improved fire and explosion suppression systems will have a better chance of surviving.
The ideal solution to the MANPADS threat, of course, is a combination of systems and strategies. A multi-layered approach would make it more difficult for terrorists to launch a successful attack because they would have to subvert several protective measures. Even still, it is a formidable challenge -- one that clearly defines what’s at stake in the global war against terrorism.
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