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The Northrop Grumman Guardian anti-missile system test will continue until March 2008

An MD-10 cargo jet recently departed the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) equipped with Northrop Grumman's Guardian anti-missile system.  It was the first commercial flight in what will become an operational testing and evaluation of the system which was designed to protect against shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile launchers.  The current generation of the Guardian system is based on Northrop's Nemesis, a defensive system used on cargo planes only -- specifically FedEx MD-10 aircraft.  

The Guardian system is a pod that weighs as much as two people and their luggage, and sits on the underbelly of the MD-10.  It works by first detecting a missile launch and then shooting a laser at it to hopefully disrupt the missile's guidance signals so that it will veer off course.    

"For the first time, we will be able to collect valuable logistics data while operating Guardian on aircraft in routine commercial service," said Robert DelBoca, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman's Defensive Systems Division.

The system is can now be installed on commercial aircraft, but the system still does not meet Department of Homeland Security reliability standards according to a government report.  Nine MD-10s will be equipped during a test period that will run through March 2008.

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By stburke on 1/19/2007 11:14:44 AM , Rating: 2
Go FedEx! Leave it to a cargo company to lead they way! I still doubt that airlines will be jumping all over this even when and if it is approved by DHS. Weight and fuel is such a fine balance on aircraft. It will be emplimented just not on as big of a scale as they think. And how often are rockets shot at domestic U.S. aircraft?

RE: mmmk
By rtrski on 1/19/2007 11:51:37 AM , Rating: 2
How often were jetliners intentionally piloted into urban targets prior to Sept 11th?

Given how prevalent and inexpensive shoulder-launched missiles are, and how vulnerable commercial planes can be on takeoff and approach, and how much enmity the US of A has gotten itself into with recent policies, I can't imagine this kind of preemptive defense measure is in any way a bad idea.

No doubt someone will start lamenting about the poor saps the confused missile falls on instead, however. Too bad the laser can't reprogram a "return to point of origination" setting. ;)

RE: mmmk
By Nik00117 on 1/19/07, Rating: -1
RE: mmmk
By masher2 on 1/19/2007 2:01:42 PM , Rating: 3
Err, an RPG is primarily an antitank weapon. A fast-moving aircraft would present an impossible target to an unguided RPG, unless you were within 200 meters or less...and that means pretty much directly on top of the landing site.

The main terrorist threat to aircraft are from small infrared-guided SAMs.

RE: mmmk
By Hare on 1/20/2007 7:07:51 AM , Rating: 2
They managed to drop blackhawks at Mogadishu with RPGs. I agree, doing any real damage to a large and fast aircraft would be difficult but still it's a real threat during take of and landing.

RE: mmmk
By masher2 on 1/20/2007 3:13:45 PM , Rating: 3
You're not thinking the scenario sufficiently through. First of all, a helicopter lands aircraft quickly. Second and most importantly, those Blackhawks were landing in enemy-controlled terrain. There were people directly underneath them with those RPGS.

This isn't a threat with commercial airliners. It's not hard to keep a runway clear, and your chance of hitting a jet with an unguided RPG is pretty much zero, unless you're right around that area. If you can't control that area, you've got bigger problems than RPGs to worry about. A terrorist could, for instance, simply blow a few large holes in the runway just as a jet was landing.

RE: mmmk
By Hare on 1/20/2007 3:49:20 PM , Rating: 2
True. My point was that the threat still exists. If a group of terrorists know that these kinds of precautions are taken care they will still find a way to do harm. Planes don't land very steeply so the launching area would still be too big to control. Don't get me wrong. I agree with you that RPGs are not a big threat but still there are so many ways that one could do harm.

I personally think that these laserpods can practically do very little but I hope I'm wrong about the potential.

RE: mmmk
By Martin Blank on 1/19/2007 2:09:44 PM , Rating: 2
Max range of an RPG is about 500m (and hitting a moving target at that distance is almost impossible even for a trained person), and the lack of a guidance system makes aiming at a plane moving at 150mph or more (which will cover that 500m in about 7.5 seconds, ignoring the increase in altitude) very difficult to the point of being a waste of munitions and manpower.

RE: mmmk
By rtrski on 1/19/2007 3:10:29 PM , Rating: 2
Others have commented on the RPG aspect, I'll just answer the bit about "I don't think a ny jet...are going to get shot down by a anti-aircraft missle very much"

...that was the whole point to my 9/11 comparison. No one THOUGHT anyone would intentionally pilot a plane full of people and/or fuel into a civilian target as a massive guided 'bomb', aside from a few 'fraidycat' analysts and one prominent techno-military fiction author. My point is that its the attack avenues that we deem unlikely and ignore which are left open as actual vulnerabilities.

It certainly is too bad that defending against this type of thing requires far more cost and development than the 'thing' itself. But I can't see anything bad in choosing to act on a perceived vulnerability before it becomes reality. I assume the placement of some sort of IED on the aircraft or runway have already been considered first and are deemed dealt with by current mechanisms (no, I don't want to turn this into a rant about how 'well' TSA really protects either the planes or airports). You prioritize your list of vulnerabilities and cover them in order of both ease of mitigation and order of perceived likelihood that they'll be used. That they've gotten to this particular security hole can be perceived as either too soon if you don't believe other avenues are covered yet, or not...but you can't say closing this hole itself doesn't make sense on its own merits, IMO.

RE: mmmk
By masher2 on 1/19/2007 3:47:48 PM , Rating: 2
The worst thing is that, now that this capability exists, if any commercial jet without it gets shot down, the surviving relatives will sue the airline to oblivion for "negligence".

RE: mmmk
By Ringold on 1/19/2007 8:29:33 PM , Rating: 4
It's going to sound callous, but here I go anyway..

Society needs to be realistic, I think, when it considers the costs and benefits. Realism has barely entered the equation at all since 9-11.

These systems are expensive up-front, first of all. Second of all, they add weight, which reduces performance and increases fuel costs. Third, about the only place they'd get used is in the Middle East.

Relative quotes from the article:

No passenger plane has ever been downed by a shoulder-fired missile outside of a combat zone. But terrorists linked with al-Qaida are believed to have fired two SA-7 missiles that narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002.


The report said testing showed that the systems can be installed on commercial aircraft without impairing safety; at least one company can supply 1,000 systems at a cost of $1 million each; and operation and maintenance will cost $365 per flight, above the $300-per-flight goal.

That doesn't account for increased fuel consumption due to their weight or any impact on the aerodynamics of the aircraft. Plus, given that its a government program, 1 million per system and $365 per flight can be safely considered a lower limit.

So. It's never happened, and is not likely to happen, to any aircraft in the USA. We can't protect against all threats; we'd all be walking around with gas masks, body armor, driving around in tanks, living in steel boxes and going to work in fall-out shelters converted to office space. It's needless.

Meanwhile, all this security garbage at airports is... garbage. Israel isn't afraid to perform sophisticated profiling, and it works. We're too politically weak; we call it 'discrimination'. The only holes that get plugged in airport security are the ones that are put in the evening news anyway.

I was leaning against a plane I was flying in Venice, FL, waiting for someone to come out from the bathroom, and glanced over at the fence. No barbed wired. It was night time. Terrorists could've jumped it, run over, and forced me to fly their brief-case nuclear bomb in to Disney. In many airports, they wouldn't even have to bother hopping a fence. Larger airports, like Sanford International, are no better secured. Securing an airport like Fort Knox would render most economically infeasible.

I'm not in the insurance business, but it seems plain enough that this is the Democrats (Barbara Boxer being noted in the article) pushing a high-cost system that sounds great on paper but really only serves two goals; build the Democrats anti-terror creds and enrich defense contractors (at the expense of airlines and consumers), all for a negligible risk.

RE: mmmk
By The Boston Dangler on 1/19/2007 9:05:51 PM , Rating: 2
milking taxpayers has been prioity number one since the end of the civil war. i could counter your blame of democrats by referring to republican-laden halibuton, carlyle group, et al, but fingering one party and not the other is as bad as "he said, she said"

RE: mmmk
By Ringold on 1/19/2007 9:13:12 PM , Rating: 3
Agreed; both parties love handing out lousy contracts. The Democrats, in their valiant attempt to look good, just happen to be making themselves more vulnerable at the moment, while simultaneously drawing the small-government Republicans out of the dormant slumber they seem to have been in over the past six years. :)

RE: mmmk
By blueoasis66 on 1/19/2007 10:46:01 PM , Rating: 2
Ask hillary clinton how she turned a $1,000 investment in the cattle industry into $100,000 overnight ? Or Obama how he negotiates land deals ? Aye, democrats smell money too. To assume it's only republicans who do, is such a democrat thing to do.

RE: mmmk
By typo101 on 1/21/2007 11:45:42 AM , Rating: 2
To assume it's only republicans who do, is such a democrat thing to do.

i think you missed something...

but fingering one party and not the other is as bad as "he said, she said"

RE: mmmk
By Captain Orgazmo on 1/19/2007 9:07:44 PM , Rating: 2
I think if you were to "put a billion lasers on [the RPG round]" it would not be flying its course. It would probably vaporize. Actually, if you aimed a billion flashlights at it, it would probably get pretty toasty.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein

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