Airport Defense: Lasers, Microwaves

By | October 24, 2006

Airport Defense Lasers Microwaves

Cheap, low-tech, easy-to-use, and utterly lethal, shoulder-fired missiles have become a terrorist weapon of choice, killing more than 640 people in 35 attacks on civilian jets. And so far, countermeasures have proven too finicky and too expensive to widely deploy. So the Department of Homeland Security is trying out instead a pair of new defenses, seemingly straight of science fiction: laser guns and microwave blasters.

The Department will spend $4.1 million to test out Raytheon’s “Vigilant Eagle” system, which relies a series of microwave pulses to throw off a missile’s guidance package. A series of passive infrared trackers, installed around an airport, would look out for missile exhaust. When these sensors detect a launch, data about the missile’s trajectory is sent to a control center, which in turn tells a billboard-size microwave array where to blast.

How exactly this is done without disrupting a plane’s avionics system has never been fully explained to me. Which may be why DHS is also sinking nearly $2 million into a study of Northrop Grumman’s laser-based, “SkyGuard” defense, as well.

The system is a modification of the company’s Tactical High Energy Laser, which successfully blasted dozens of Katyusha rockets and mortars out of the air during military testing. The laser, powered by vats of toxic chemicals, was considered too cumbersome for battlefield use. A permanent set-up an airport might be a different story, however.

Ah, if the plane is high enough, it is safe from RPGs and if it is landing or taking off, you’d have these things. My idea: Pay perhaps $1 million dollars to a gang of social workers and have them change people’s minds about wanting to blow up our planes in the first place. Cure the actual problem, don’t spend billions fighting the symptoms of fear, greed and stupidity. One planet. One species. Why can’t we all just get along?

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