Aquestion has been circling airlines, as to whether or not jetliners can defend against missiles. The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the disruption of commercial carriers by rockets hitting Israel and the flight ban, has motive airlines to look into antimissile systems for passenger flights.
Ten years ago the airline industry and regulators concluded that it would be too expensive and dangerous to fit passenger jet with antimissile systems. The idea was originally explored after several attacks using short-range heat-seeking missiles.
Before the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration lifted the ban early on American carriers flying into Tel Aviv, Thursday, July 24th, but not before the decision sparked a wider discussion about whether international carriers should fly over regions experiencing conflict, and whether jets should be equipped with antimissile systems as an added precaution.
Unfortunately, military experts say, there is still no development in onboard equipment to defend a plane against the unguided rockets Hamas has been launching against ground targets. The current antimissile systems can only deflect heat-seekintg missiles. The C-Music system is not effective against any radar-guided missiles, which includes the Bulk suspected of taking down Malaysia Airlines
Flight 17. Different prevention methods are required for each type of surface-to-air missiles. Airline executives are concerned that managing this equipment could distract pilots and force them into being quasi-military personnel. Additional executive concerns include that it would cost billions of dollars to fit all aircraft with antimissile technologies, create a training nightmare for piolits as well as contribute extra safety issues due to the erratic nature of the equipment. Lasers can also be damaging to eyes and other defenses can be toxic.
James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad Airways PJSC said, "It's almost unheard of for nonmilitary aircraft to be fitted with this equipment, and it also increases the risk of other dangers affecting the safety of the aircraft. Civilian airlines should be provided with accurate information to know where they can fly and where they shouldn't fly."
The majority of antimissile systems developed today for aircraft and helicopters are to counter short-range and shoulder-fired missiles, or Manpads. Those threats are everywhere and were used in an attack on a DHL cargo plane taking off from Baghdad in 2003.
Israel is the only country that has mandated the use of such equipment on its commercial jetliners. This was prompted by an incident in 2002 in which an Arkia Israeli Airlines plane carrying more than 200 passengers was fired on while taking off from Mombasa, Kenya; luckily the missiles missed. Under “Sky Shield”, a government initiative, jets for national flag carrier El Al Israel Airlines, as well as Arkia Israeli Airlines and Israir Airlines, are having the equipment installed, according to the Israeli device’s manufacturer. In Israel’s case, they decided that the extra protection is worth the investment and any other concerns.
The C-Music system is known as a directed infrared countermeasures device, or DIRCM. It operates by drawing the weapon off course by pointing a laser beam at the missile's heat-seeking detection sensor. However, many missiles are radar-guided for which DIRCMs would not deflect.
John Clifford, president of the U.K. Chapter of the Association of Old Crows, the international advocacy group for electronic warfare said, "To defeat radar-guided weapons is a significantly more difficult proposition than defeating infrared-guided weapons.”
"Realistically, if you have lunatics that are going to shoot down airliners with sophisticated radar-guided surface-to-air missiles, there really is not a lot you can do about it," said Martin Streetly, an U.K.-based electronic warfare consultant.