back to article DHS ponders microwave raygun missile defences at airports

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will consider fitting high-power microwave electropulse rayguns at US airports, in order to defend against the threat of terrorists firing portable anti-aircraft missiles at airliners. American defence heavyweight Raytheon would partner with Israel's Rafael and Kongsberg of Norway …


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  1. Jonathan Richards

    A veering off-course rocket...

    ...that sounds "safe as houses" to me. Yup. What could possibly go wrong?

  2. Christoph
    Thumb Down

    Oink, Flap

    No risk at all to any aircraft electronics. But it will reliably scramble all missile electronics.

    What will it do to the electronics of flying pigs?

  3. Steve K

    Great for those on the ground then...

    So either those on the ground will get a missile-fuel shower, or the missile will veer off course and hit (say) a terminal building, fuel depot, hotels......etc.

    I suppose it's a numbers game then. As long as you kill fewer than were on the aircraft then Bob's your Auntie......

  4. Mike
    Black Helicopters


    So "Vigilant Eagle" (true patriotic American name there, btw) scrambles the missles radar, causing it to veer off course. Is it me, or is anyone else wondering what then happens to this high velocity lump of high explosive?

    Where will it go? The departure lounge? Nearby housing estate? Crocodile of children on the way to school? I think they need to have a bit of a rethink on the old tech here...

  5. Tom

    Oh dear.

    Considering the efficacy of American military target identification recently, I expect we'll see plenty more airliners dropping out of the skies if they get this puppy up and running.

    Fiery Death symbol because...well because.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Jobcentres with microwave anti-aircraft?

    Oh, DHS with one S.

    Sorry, I'll get my coat.

  7. Steven Hunter
    Black Helicopters

    Precedent anyone?

    This seems like a solution in search of a problem. Has there ever been a guided missile attack at a US airport in the entire history of commercial aviation?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Surely the risk is an RPG from the back of a pickup at the end of the runway?

    Actually, a good effort with a few rifles could probably knock out both engines which would be something of a nuisance at take off..

  9. Steven Hewittt

    "sending the weapon veering off course"

    Veering towards what? The control tower, or the terminal building?

    This a late April Fools?

  10. dervheid

    Not really...

    been thought through thoroughly enough, I suspect.

    Won't stop them spending the dosh / deploying the results though.

    The foil lined one with the earth strap.

  11. David

    If it ever really gets to that stage

    Then I give up travelling by air.

    I'm not so sure that I would not be alone either.

    I thought that "missile shields" were just a byword for irritating the Russkies.

  12. Solomon Grundy


    Why in God's name do we need missile protection here in the U.S.? It's fairly obvious that "the terrorists" don't have any missiles, otherwise they wouldn't have to use entire airplanes instead.

    Damn it, I'm getting really tired of being "protected". I'm more scared of my own government than I am of terrorists.

    Damn it.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Useless "defense"

    So instead of aiming for the plane, the missile can be sent "veering off-course" into, say, the terminal, the ground crew, the nearby motorway, nearby houses...

    ...or right back into the plane.


  14. Anonymous Coward

    Oh, FFS...

    This smacks of the USA's Cold War propaganda - more and more outlandish claims on the fringes of reality. In the 60s, the US-controlled anti-Castro radio station broadcasting into Cuba alleged things like drugs being added to food to 'turn you into a Communist against your will,' and this is the 21st Century equivalent. Hoping that the fear of a fictional technology will prevent attacks, very poor. Why not just let slip that they've got Cthulu on their side and then hastily and suspiciously retract it so as to leave a doubt lingering - it's cheaper than a white elephant like this by a factor of infinite.

    While I don't doubt there's microwave anti-missile systems in development and deployment, I'm confident they can't distinguish between a missile's navigation system and a Boeing one. I foresee the sale of Faraday cages to tech-savvy terrorists going through the roof...

    Anonymous because, by Christ, I like not having electrodes on my hands whilst I stand, hooded, in a crucifix pose on a barrel in an illegal jail.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Important questions un-answered !

    Does it go "DING" after it cooks a missile ?

    Does Lewis get kick-backs for all the free feasibility studies we do in the comments section ?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's all about the money....

    I tell you, all this domestic USA security boondongles is about pumping US$ into the US economy in a way likely to create domestic GDP.

    According to this, between 2007 Q1 and 2008 Q1 they've grown their money supply by a third, i.e. their money supply is doubling every 3 years:

    Imagine you'd bought stock in a company, and the companies sales don't increase, but every 3 years they've doubled the number of shares. You earnings per share halve every 3 years and you get very pissed off and dump the company.

    But what if the company doubled in size in that time? You may feel that even though their shares have doubled the value has doubled, so your still holding something with the same worth.

    That's what they're up to, they need you to keep faith in the dollar investments, but that means growing the US economy. The only place they dominate is defence spending, and so by making fresh dollars and pumping into defence they hope to keep faith in the dollar.

    So they'll stick expensive ray guns at airports not because they're useful but because their expensive and made by USA companies!

    This article from 2003 explains their problem, the numbers are out of date, the debt isn't $12000 per American, it's $32000 per American now, $134000 per family, plus interest, at 6% over 20 years that would be about $220,000 repaid, even without any growth in deficit....


    "Imagine this: you are deep in debt but every day you write cheques for millions of dollars you don't have — another luxury car, a holiday home at the beach, the world trip of a lifetime. Your cheques should be worthless but they keep buying stuff because those cheques you write never reach the bank! You have an agreement with the owners of one thing everyone wants, call it petrol/gas, that they will accept only your cheques as payment. This means everyone must hoard your cheques so they can buy petrol/gas. Since they have to keep a stock of your cheques, they use them to buy other stuff too. You write a cheque to buy a TV, the TV shop owner swaps your cheque for petrol/gas, that seller buys some vegetables at the fruit shop, the fruiterer passes it on to buy bread, the baker buys some flour with it, and on it goes, round and round — but never back to the bank.

    "You have a debt on your books, but so long as your cheque never reaches the bank, you don't have to pay. In effect, you have received your TV free. This is the position the USA has enjoyed for 30 years — it has been getting a free world trade ride for all that time. It has been receiving a huge subsidy from everyone else in the world. As it debt has been growing, it has printed more money (written more cheques) to keep trading. No wonder it is an economic powerhouse!

    "Then one day, one petrol seller says he is going to accept another person's cheques, a couple of others think that might be a good idea. If this spreads, people are going to stop hoarding your cheques and they will come flying home to the bank. Since you don't have enough in the bank to cover all the cheques, very nasty stuff is going to hit the fan!

    "But you are big, tough and very aggressive. You don't scare the other guy who can write cheques, he's pretty big too, but given a 'legitimate' excuse, you can beat the tripes out of the lone gas seller and scare him and his mates into submission.

    "And that, in a nutshell, is what the USA is doing right now with Iraq."

  17. Steve


    Oh come on! what next?

  18. Adam Peters


    If its a MANPAD, you can guarantee the seeker will be Infra Red, not 'radar'.

  19. Mad Mike
    Paris Hilton


    Anything that can affect the electronics of an anti-aircraft missile (which is designed to operate in a hostile environment), is going to affect the electronics of a civilian airliner (which is not designed to operate in a hostile environment). Therefore, they had better get the aiming right!! What's the difference between a missile being launched from a high building and the engines of an airliner in heat signature terms?

    Also, due to the inverse square law in operation here, the microwave transmitter (weapon) would have to be very powerful to have an adequate range. Therefore, even if the levels were safe at range (unlikely if it's gonna fry electronics), it is very unlikely to be safe at closer ranges. Might cook a couple of people before working it out!!

    The Paris icon? Because even Paris couldn't come up with something so stupid.

  20. Greg

    Hold up

    "Booen told Flight that the wavelengths involved are the same used by commercial cell phones, which - apparently - means there is no risk to airliner avionics."

    And yet they won't let you use mobile phones on an case it messes with their systems.

  21. James Green


    "Some elements of Vigilant Eagle have already been tried out at "an undisclosed US airport""

    So they've fired a guided missile at an aircraft and succesfully shot it down? (The missile not the plane)

    Or does this mean they've shot planes with microwaves to see if they fall from the sky?

  22. Joe Blogs

    You what?

    "Some elements of Vigilant Eagle have already been tried out at "an undisclosed US airport", it appears, and Raytheon would now like $10m from the DHS for a live-fire trial."

    Emmm.. what elements have been tested? the missile cooking bit? and how did they test it, fire some missile at departing planes and then shoot down the missiles themselves just to see if it worked?

    I'm sorry El Reg - this is fail, this is 3 days too late!!!

  23. Alex Brett

    Risk to airliners

    "Booen told Flight that the wavelengths involved are the same used by commercial cell phones, which - apparently - means there is no risk to airliner avionics."

    So by that logic, I could point my phone at a missile and it'll be deactivated!

    If it's powerful enough to disable the guidance system in a missile that's most likely shielded (at least slightly) against this sort of thing, then what chance has a commercial airliner, that isn't designed to withstand these sorts of attacks going to have...

  24. Remy Redert

    re: Guidance

    They have no intention of scrambling the guidance system itself, irregardless of type. They intend to screw with the entire avionics suite. If it works, the missile won't know where it is, where it's supposed to be going, what its target is or where said target is.

    If it doesn't, which seems more likely at anything but very short ranges, the missile will just merrily smash into its target anyways.

    If you are going to defend against missiles, you have basically 2 options. Blind them with lasers, flares, chaff, etc. to make it impossible for it to find its target. Or outright destroy the missile by whatever means you have availble.

    Anything that relies on using electromagnetic radiation to screw with electronics is too unreliable.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could also be very unfortunate for aircraft in distress.

    Readers in the UK will recall the recent unfortunate accident at Biggin Hill where a small plane (so nearer the size of a missile in the view of the AI than say a jumbo would be) tried to return to land just after take off with an engine problem before it parked rather prematurely in someones house having limped along at treetop height for a bit. I know that no real result from the investigation is out yet, but bear with me.

    If in a future event the engine was on fire, perhaps seeming to the IR like a rocket plume, the combination of the above (small profile, higging the treeline, venting lots of heat) could look like a missile and trigger the defences, and yes, light commercial aircraft do fly from major airports. Alot.

    I would prefer a manual system, and there lies the problem in terms of response time. Auto systems with a manual over-ride arent reliable either, we lost a Tornado returning to base in the gulf as the IFF failed. Unless you are going to have counter-fire operators sitting ready and doing nothing else, it could be very worrying.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Unguided?

    You can now buy working copies of the PTRS [ ] in the USA. You just gotta love the "land of the free".

    It has been used to knock out Shtukas on bombing runs during WW2. It will have no problem whatsoever with any civilian aircraft on today's market. It spits out nearly a meter of flame when firing so you are not exactly inconspicuous. Still, it has several times the range of an RPG and it cannot be picked up on radar.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Here's a clue

    Number of microwave based anti-missile systems in service on ground, airborne or naval platforms: 0.

    Which might possible be something to do with being both hazardous and ineffective.

    Also bear in mind that many existing platforms (mostly military) already have access to high output steerable radar/ECM systems, yet this isn't considered one of the uses of them.

    I suspect that someone has decided that given the threat doesn't really exist, there isn't a problem supplying a countermeasure that doesn't exist/work. There are plenty of buzzwords and it *sounds* like it could work, which is just enough to convince those holding the cash to invest in it.

    By the time they work out it does nothing the contractor already has all the money, and is working on the next scam.

  28. Dave Bell

    Missile electronics.

    There's so many ways of messing up electronics. The early missiles, such as the Sidewinder and the SAM-7, could be misdirected fairly easily. Whether a flashing light on the target, or microwave-induced pulses in the electronics, is misleads the guidance system about the direction to steer.

    You could probably build that sort of guidance system with vacuum tubes.

    Modern missiles can use much more complicated guidance systems, with different vulnerabilities.

    This might be a transportable system, but it doesn't make much sense for the DHS. It does make a sort of sense for the USAF, running airfields in unfriendly territory, and they are very careful about radar sets being pointed at live ammunition.

    So why isn't the USAF paying for it? Maybe they have people whop can do the math on radar sets and death rays?

  29. James
    Dead Vulture

    Wouldn't it be better... train a crack squad of elite racing pigeons to fly into the path of the missile forcing it to destruct early? Cheaper, cleaner (cept for the bird shit), and no real testing required. Just a lot of pigeon food.

    Actually come to that, wouldn't that be a better job for the terrorists. Just release a flock of birds into the path of an oncoming airliner. Have to be a lot of em, but you see it at big sporting/celebratory events.

    They could of course still use the microwave jobbie to stop a flock of birds, with the added bonus of a free meal all round.

    If this was on the 1st I would have lol'd

    Meh, im loling anyway

  30. Alex

    Number counting

    Now, as a programmer... if this thing is number counting, do you think it'll have the logic to look up the flight list and see which plane the missle is aiming, cross reference against the expecting passengers and the plane vs. the time of day and expected passengers in the near by terminal and decide whether or not to shoot the missle down?

    I mean after all, if it's there game to "number count" then it'd be better hitting a plane with it's crew and 1 passenger then a busy terminal at rush hour?

    Sounds, great...

  31. StopthePropaganda

    follow the money

    another democratic "earmark" from the same folks who claim out one side of their @ss that terrorists are no threat to America, but then try to shove useless missile defense systems for aircraft and airports thru as "security" budget issues. The same missile defenses "in development" by her husband's company.

    Looking at you, Pelosi, you massive traitorous hypocrite. How's your husband's missile defense system for cargo aircraft coming? How many millions more in defense contracts are you going to send him and then claim that it's not a conflict of interest, because it's "his" profits and somehow in CA you're the only woman who doesn't own at least half of everything a family man has?

  32. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Dead Vulture

    Insert coins

    This sounds like a crappy video game. Airplanes: -100 points, Missiles: +1000 points, birds: +10 points, pop a falling bird before it hits the ground: +100 points, luggage: no penalty but it goes boom.

  33. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Obvious defence?

    Forget the airliners. If this works, it could also be deployed in military situations. So...the Chinese will start producing missiles that protect their electronics a little better, which will then end up in general circulation (the arms trade being what it is).

    So if there *are* terrorists with ground-to-air missiles (which I doubt) then in a few years time they will have missiles that can't be shot down with these devices. In the meantime, of course, Raytheon have been paid to install their kit at every airport in the land. How convenient.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Another way to give taxpayers money to the death corporations for "protecting" the citizens.

    By the way terrorists. the government does not care if you kill normal citizens. if you really want their attention aim for the little white jets.

  35. Nomen Publicus
    Dead Vulture

    Solution worse than the threat

    If this is a solution to a current threat, why on earth are there any commercial flights at all?

    As others have pointed out, all the failure modes of this insane scheme involve an out of control missile in a target rich environment.

    The other week an armed pilot "accidentally" shot his own plane, we can expect the same level of competency with any kind of missile defence system deployed at a civilian airport

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC Re: Cthulhu

    The can drop all the hints they want. We already know who's side Cthulhu is on.

  37. Jan


    There is a nice device that might be quite effective to protect airfields. And has been tested....

  38. heystoopid


    Well given how crappy the Raytheon Radars and there inability to decipher friend or foe were in Gulf War One and the report was some what damming ! Thus even the Fairchild A10(remember these planes flew from day one to the end unlike it's more glamorous faster more unreliable front line fighter aircraft most of which ended up at the end of the runway awaiting spare parts like engines and other vital systems) tank killer pilots noted the position of all the missile batteries using any of their Radar Systems from this company were and usually flew a minimum 100 mile radius away from them at all times !

    Does that give one confidence in the ability of the company in question to deliver a working system , not really !

    So will an airfield worker have the foresight to shut down the system when a plane is attempting to land with an engine on fire ?, I think not !

  39. Wayland Sothcott

    Tested at Heathrow in January

    If you notice no surface to air missiles hit the Boeng 777 and the plane was not too badly affected by microwaves. So it must be effective.

    You may have spotted that recently there have been several incidences of jet planes suffering fuel problems and loss of power. All sizes and makes of jet plane have been affected. Some have been grounded, some have crash landed and a small one crashed into a house earlier this week in a huge fireball of death. In all cases they could not be sure of the cause of the problem except lack of power. OK maybe Chemtrails perhaps they put something in the fuel to make pretty lines in the sky.

    I would not be happy if these microwave weapons were routinely installed at airports. They are automatic and if left armed (which they would have to be in order to catch a surprize attack) they could start shooting microwaves all over the place, disrupting communications and computers.

    Part of me thinks that they won't ever deploy these but the companies would like the money to develop one.

  40. Anonymous John

    Sounds like a good idea to me.

    "Right, Chuck. Aim the laser pointer at the cockpit of this incoming 777"





  41. Fluffykins Silver badge

    WOW! Just think: If a "veering missile" ever hit Terminal 5

    It would cause literally MILLIONS of punds worth of improvement.

  42. Doug Glass

    Oh Yeah, Makes Sense To Me

    So the idea is to cause the device to veer off into [most likely] heavily populated areas? Yep, this is a good solution. Whatcha bet none of the Raytheon morons live within crash range of an airport.

    Idiots, just fracking idiots. Highly paid forward thinking, pocket protecting, booger picking idiots.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @ Fluffykins


    Thanks, that was funny.

    I must admit I like the idea of equipping every airport with weapons that could be pressed into service as counter-airplane equipment. It means the next time the US decides it needs a terrorist action to justify a war (for, say, Iran who has been thinking about trading oil for Euros), the so ordered troupe doesn't even need to bring their own weapons. Saves all the smuggling hassle.

    I have no idea what these guys are smoking, but it must be seriously bad stuff..

  44. Anonymous Coward

    Airliners... what Airliners, we only see airboure WMD.. says DHS

    Quote [ On the issue of possible effects on airliner systems - or even people - Raytheon insist that Vigilant Eagle is safe as houses.

    "Transmitted electromagnetic fields are well within Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards" says the company. Boon told Flight that the wavelengths involved are the same used by commercial cell phones, which - apparently - means there is no risk to airliner avionics. ]

    No Shit Sherlok!

    Some id10t(on the dhs payroll) fires one off and everyone within 2 miles of the airport suffers a red-out due to the intense interference from this starwars reject toy.

    Not to mention the risk to anyone with a pacemaker when it missfires due to the emf/emr/emp.

    oh and the airport radar systems would throw a fit as well, not to mention pop a few fuses and if they down a jet... who.. what us??? nahhh not our fault....

    (see Heathrow 777 hard landing)

    Its bad enough the DHS goons with thier radioactive toys are gradually trashing all electrical equipment that passes through the airports.

    How much extra exposure are 'YOU' getting from that toy whilst waiting inline to be abused by the retards, now they want to do the same job with one button press. awsome....,

    remind me to take a trip over there via cuba or south america.

    Mines the camoflage hoody with the crinkly foil feel and the dossimeter sewn into the sleeve......

    illuminatus ;p

  45. Paul Banacks

    What nonsense

    Hmm... some immediately obvious points:

    1) Why would a microwave burst affect a guidance system of a missile but not that of an aircraft. A missile is after all an aircraft with a bomb on the front.

    2) Why would a terrorist need to use a missile containing a sophisticated guidance system? With suitable thought and practice, one imagines a bog standard rocket containing no guidance system whatsoever launched down the flight-path would be able to hit an aircraft with relative ease. And the microwave disruptor would be completely ineffective.

    3) Assuming our hypothetical terrorist actually has such a sophisticated missile, why would he need to launch it near an airport? Why not, for example, do it a few miles out where the flight path is still well known in advance, the aircraft is still low in the sky and it would be well out of range of these electronic countermeasures.

    The government will buy any old crap in the name of security if someone wants to sell it to them! I should get into the security business!

  46. trackSuit
    Thumb Down


    What a Colossal waste of money.

    Anyone thinking such a system to be necessary would be either trying to sell such a system, or suffering from paranoia -any other explanations/excuses?

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Not gona work that well

    These Surface to Air Missiles, shoulder launched, so called MANPADS have variable operational cielings from about 5000 ft to 15000ft or possibly more.

    The cheap as chips, old Ruskie stuff like the SA7 Grail missiles, although a bit old to take on new military kit is fine for a big fat slow and hot airliner. This things got a max operational altitude of 4500 metres and max range of 5500 metres in case you shooting from a hill.

    Therefore the engagement envelope of this man portable, fairly small, fairly simple (enough for a conscript to use) piece of kit is HUGE. If it can hit a plane at 1/2 its normal cruising altitude , which it will take a while to reach el Jihadi terrorista will able sit a long way away from the airport, far further than a Line of Sight, beamed energy weapon / electronic warfare emitter could hit, particularly for those places that have hills n stuff.

    I smell pork, the sort of pork you get in barrel and looks like cash.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture


    So we all see how many of these devices are needed to defend an airport: 5-10 on the take off side and 30 on the approach. And if you have alternate runways and bi-directional operation lets say 100 per airport. As we say megabucks so mega interest.

    Now here is the flip side. These devices are powerful enough to take out a missile, so surely they could take out an airliner. So you don't need a missile at all you just need access to one of the projectors. Heaven forbid you might even be able to hack into the control system. Just how many men do you need to defend the 100 sites around each airport? Looks to be about the same as the Iraq war effort. Now we can really talk about megabucks.

  49. Michael

    What I want to know is...

    Can it reheat your coffee, or your fries & burger , which is what i believe it's mostly going to get used for.

  50. Anonymous Coward

    Old News

    This has already been tried out earlier this year at Heathrow. Didn't affect the test missile but did bring down a Boeing 777.....

    As a result it was thought to be too dangerous and replaced by the T-5 baggage system which ensures over 50% of the flights are cancelled anyway.

  51. Anonymous Coward

    That's it, i'm not flying anymore

    When i get back from the UK, i'll refuse any business trips that i can't do by train in a relatively short period of time.

    SMG's in the hands of police in a public airport (Heathrow) *, throwing away all water before getting to the duty-free area, but having no free drinking water there (yeah, Heathrow again), taking your shoes off for god know what reason (bet you guessed already) - it's all about enough.

    Now the americans are putting up those rayguns, if they work you can be sure the brits will put some up also, because what monkey see monkey gotta do, and for quite a few years now the once respectable UK has lowered itself to the position of US lackey.

    * why do i have a problem with the police having SMG's in a public place with LOADS of people ? Do i need to answer ?

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