back to article US sees first airliner flight with laser defences

US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) trials of laser missile-dazzler defences on airliners have passed another milestone, with armaments maker BAE Systems announcing that its "JetEye" gear has made its first scheduled passenger flight. The JetEye-equipped plane, a Boeing 767 operated by American Airlines, made a routine trip …


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  1. Bob Gender

    First US flight?

    What about El Al? They've been packing bobby-dazzlers* since at least 2002.

    *Oh, if I ran an arms emporium..

  2. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Hope BAE get royally screwed.

    More fearmongering from the arms business by inventing an expensive solution to a problem that does not exist. Still, that's the only way they can turn a profit right... oh, that and bribing 3rd world countries with apalling human rights records millions to buy their products.

    Bill Hicks had it right:

    Military : "Iraq... incredible weapons, incredible weapons!!!!"

    Public : "So how do you know that?"

    Military : "Errr... well... we looked at the reciept. But as soon as that cheque clears... we're goin in!!!"

  3. Rob

    10,000 feet max?

    if these are only going to be in effective range during take off and landing, it would seem to make more sense to put these anti missile devices in the airports rather than the planes.

    i have to assume they have a good reason for doing it this way round, anyone know what it is?

  4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    What is a sensible response

    "though there was a MANPADS intelligence scare in London during 2003, resulting in troops deploying at Heathrow."

    I thought that was just Tony Blair trying to scare up some support for bombing Iraq.

    The news showed a tank and a few soldiers. Would that have been any use? What would have been an effective response? If there really was a plot, why couldn't the plotters have waited a week for the soldiers to go home?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Bob Gender

    Have El Al used them?

    That which hasn't been used in anger against El Al is that which ain't worth worrying about.

  6. Jeff Rowse Silver badge
    Dead Vulture

    Airliner fuel economy "downgrades"

    If (and it is a VERY big 'if') ManPADS did ever get to be a serious threat to civil aircraft then I suspect that many nations - especially the USA - would require DIRCM be fitted to all airliners. Which is mildly amusing given that somebody supplied the Mujahideen with quite a few Stinger SAMs for use against the Soviets in Afghanistan...

    These may "only" be a threat up to about 10,000 feet but that is what, about 5-10 minutes flying time from takeoff (assuming the aircraft climbs straight to altitude and doesn't need to loiter at 'low level' to avoid traffic etc)? Not too much of a worry if your airport is in the back of beyond, but not ideal if it's near a large city or built-up area... *cough* Heathrow *cough*. Not only that, imagine the lawsuits that would follow if "Airline X" didn't have anythng on board and the Bad Guys shot down a loaded 747 (or even worse, an AIrbus A380).

    Surely it wouldn't cause too much grief to stick these things on the front and/or rear of the engine pylons of an airliner? If they can (allegedly) be fitted to a fighter or fighter-bomber without causing too much drag then an extra lump or two on a Jumbo shouldn't be that uneconomical (although an airliner brought down by a ManPADS is unlikely to be wasting much fuel in the future. Being wrecked does kinda prevent further fuel burn).

    Dead bird... reason should be obvious...

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Get Real

    "Many in the airline industry fear that rules requiring passenger flights to be so equipped would lead to unacceptable costs."

    Get real. The airlines financial issues won't be affected by this in any way. The airlines financial issues are solely due to their having an illogical fare structure. Until they fix that, they will always be in financial crisis.

  8. E


    The British helicopter getting shot down is unfortunate, but it was involved in a war.

    To conflate losses during military actions with losses due to attacks on civilians is an error of several varieties.

  9. Stewart Haywood

    El Al

    I'm sure that El Al have been doing this for some time.

    I don't think that they tracked the missile exhaust though.

    I think the way that they did it was to basically flash a laser that was pointing backwards, at the same rate that the missile samples it's infra

    red detectors. This would persuade the missile to turn of to one side, or up or down. Since the missile has a very short burn time it has no way to recover from it's "mistake".

    I expect modern missiles use a much better tracking system that requires a very bright dazzle. Not the sort of thing to leave switched on all the time around airports.

  10. Marty R. Milette

    Billions of dollars in corruption...

    How do these companies manage to convince governments and individuals to buy this crap? Last attack in 2002? Nowhere near America. Hmmm -- Me thinks that another company is on the Bush/DHS "Friends and Family" graft program...

    Airlines will be mandated to purchase them -- and YOU will be mandated to pay for them.

  11. Nomen Publicus
    Thumb Down

    Follow the VERY bright light?

    How long before the missiles are upgraded to track the light from high powered lasers as a fallback?

  12. Chris C

    What a coincidence

    This must be one heck of a coincidence, as my family and I just watched "Real Genius" last night.

  13. Pete Silver badge

    an untried solution to a non-existent threat?

    > Even so, MANPADS attacks remain rare even in the conflict zones of the Middle East.

    If the reports are correct and Iran has obtained a few of these, isn't it just simpler to not fly near Iran?

    Someone should take the airlines' representatives aside and explain to them the difference between "possible" and "probable". Yes, it's possible these things exist in some parts of the world, No it's not probable that they are any more of a threat than anything else - which the airlines don't try to defend against.

    As it is, even if this untested technology was deployed, it would not take long for some enterprising person to replace the heat-seeking head of a missile with one that homed in on, say, the radio emissions from a plane, or it's size, or the trail of burnt fuel that follows it around. Of course then BAE could sting more gullible organisations for solutions against these imaginary threats, too.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    The defense system will only be effective until...

    The updated, revamped version of MANPADS comes out; MAXI-MANPADS. (or is it MAN-MAXIPADS?) Which will be countered by "Total.Aerial.Missile.Protection.Online.Network"

  15. Andy Bright

    What does this remind me of?

    Oh yes...

    "You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that cannot be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here!"

    @Marty R. Milette

    Yep, long been a belief of mine that pretty much all of this nation's security spending has been due to the cronies the Bush family wants to support. I know some people are skeptical, but when a part time horse show judge becomes director of FEMA it kind of shows where their priorities lay.

    Then you have the little party we like to call Iraq. Let's see, the VP's buddies at Haliburton seem to be doing very well despite the Pentagon's dismay at the padded bills they've been receiving. Oh and mission is indeed accomplished, oil @$140 / barrel and rising. I'm sure the Bush family's close relationship with Saudi oil billionaires has nothing to do with this..

    Which brings me to oil itself. Now tell me, why does anyone think drilling for more will lower prices, even if it could be on the market within 10 years (which it can't)?

    Living in Alaska, where we drill our oil, refine it into gasoline and pay not one penny less than everyone else, what does that tell you? I'll give you a hint. When asked why they charge so much, the answer was "Because we can. Why should we sell it to you for less than this, when we could get that price anywhere else?".

    Bottom line, there is no shortage of oil at the moment. When was the last time you went to fill up and they said "Sorry, we're out of stock"? Not since the 70s. The price of oil is this high because that's the price they want it to be. Drilling for more will do nothing other than line more pockets in the Bushes "Friends and Family" list.

    Last year Bush threatened to veto a bill that contained money to build levees in New Orleans. However he was delighted to sign one that gave millions of dollars in subsidies to the oil industry. And yes I know the lame excuse he gave for this, and I call bullshit.

  16. Steve Mann

    Not to mention

    that despite the Bush rhetoric about "foreig oil" we can get all we want just by asking Canada for it. After all, it's where we get most of it already.

    "So why the higher prices" you ask?

    "It's due to all the fish in the atmosphere."

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    don't need a MANPADS

    A laser guided RPG launcher five miles out from the end of the runway would be cheaper and just as effective against a fully fueled airliner just taking off from an airport.

    But then terrorists aren't ones to be subtle, so they would be more likely to try and drive a explosive laden lorry into the airport. Martyrdom is what they shoot for (pun intended). ;)

  18. Nik

    OK I'll bite:

    A bit of info to help previous commentators:

    Pete: These systems are far from untested. I've seen video of live firing trials against systems far more sophisticated than MANPADs. This was a couple of years ago, so it might even be on YouTube now. They just haven't been tested whilst fitted to $100M airliners.

    Rob: The reason that the system has to be fitted to the aircraft is that it works by dazzling the seeker on the missile. Only one missile, now sadly defunct, had the seeker anywhere other than the front. This is the end that is usually pointed towards the target.



  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC "don't need a MANPADS"

    Real RPG's don't have the range. Laser guided RPG's only exist in video games.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Another weapon for a terrorist to engage whilst Hijacking a plane - Great thinking

    How considerate in the War on terror to potentially arm a plane just in case a willing hijacker forgot his shooter

  21. James


    Just when airlines are struggling with high fuel costs, and looking at weight reductions on aircraft as much as possible along comes someone with the bright idea of bolting several hundred kilos of kit on the arse of each plane.

    Still, think of the fear-mongering you can with this (OMG!! THEY'RE NOT GOING TO GET YOU WITH SCISSORS OR BREAST MILK ANYMORE BUT THEY'RE GOING TO SHOOT YOU ALL DOWN!!1!...)

    I think I'm getting cynical in my old age.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Witness the power of...

    Our fully armed and operational 747 with a giant F**king laser!


  23. Anonymous Coward

    Yes, but...

    ...are they *big frikken* laser beams?

  24. Rob Cooper

    Waste. Of. Money.

    Been said. Scaremongering. All your wallets are belong to us or you will DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE!



    Another great reason for more national debt, and higher air fares for the consumer.

    I'll get my coat.. And the boat abroad.. Enjoy a nice cruise on the way.. Unless..


    I can't go anywehere!

  25. Steve Roper

    I can see the headline now

    ...Empire State Building Destroyed:

    Hijacked airliner downs NY landmark with laser

    FFS, what is it with these idiots? When was the last time a terrorist took out an airliner from OUTSIDE the plane? Even if one was hiding in some apartment near the airport with an RPG, how is the pilot (or on-board system for that matter) going to identify the threat, lock on target, and take it out before the nutjob pumps a rocket up their arse? Finally, if you're going to arm airliners, what's wrong with good old wing-mounted M-60s instead of this pointless energy-wasting Star Wars bullshit?

    Sounds like someone in BAE has their cock up Bush's arse to me.

  26. Bruce Bowden

    Perfect for those idiots shining lasers at planes

    Try to zap a plane as it comes into land, get blasted back with a laser strong enough to give your retinas a lovely tan.

  27. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Re: 10,000 feet max & Follow the VERY bright light?

    "if these are only going to be in effective range during take off and landing, it would seem to make more sense to put these anti missile devices in the airports rather than the planes.

    i have to assume they have a good reason for doing it this way round, anyone know what it is?"

    The simple reason is that the IR tracking head is at the front of the missiles and they are flying up. Therefore if you shine a laser at it from below it will only illuminate the missile's tail instead of blinding it.

    "How long before the missiles are upgraded to track the light from high powered lasers as a fallback?"

    Well, the most modern MANPADS already have imaging tracking, i.e. they look at the overall shape of the target and not only at the bright points, such as the engine exhausts.

    In addition there are command-guided MANPADS (some quite old) where you need to blind the operator and not the missile...

    All in all - this BAE system is an expensive and limited solution for a very specific and highly improbable problem.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alternatives to MANPADS

    The RPG-7, which has been around for a seriously long time, self destructs at a bit more than a thousand yards.

    There are reports of this being used to scare the shit out of fast jet pilots, quite apart from Blackhawk Down scenarios.

    Getting one close enough to an airport would be difficult, hitting an airline would be tricky. but there are a lot of them about. They are much cheaper than MANPADs.

    How about a salvo of artillery rockets? One of those hitting your A380 could ruin your whole day. Fire them like a shotgun, and all the misses come down somewhere for added panic.

    And if there was a real threat, we wouldn't be spending a couple of years testing the hardware.

  29. Gordon Pryra

    Good news!!

    Now we have countered that threat, we need to work on the possibility of the flying squirrels with the big gnashing teeth, and the AK47's

    Evil buggers those, but more likely to being down an airliner than half a million quids worth of single shot MANPAD

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Somebody call it...

    ... 'cause let's face it the terrorists have definately won and they continue win while we have muppets and profiteers running our countries.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC : Real RPG's

    >Real RPG's don't have the range.

    RPG-7 ~1km

    Should be plenty, if you have a butchers at Glasgow airport, you'll see lots of roads around it with little more than a fence, picture a guy stood on a van with a 500m working range, that's most aircraft in their taxi stage.

    A good shot could park at the end and have a straight head on view of a plane during take off with less than 500 yards.

    >Laser guided RPG's only exist in video games.

    Indeed, you get wire guided though terrorists would be as unlikely to get their hands on a working one of those as they would an AA launcher.

    Terrorists in Britain are thick and poorly equipped though, look at the same Glasgow map, a 4WD could have driven onto the runways after penetrating a light wire fence at the end of the road. Instead the dumbasses try to get through a door that's smaller than the car.

  32. Echowitch
    Paris Hilton

    Overly expensive tech

    So they want to use a laser to track and target the head of a (relatively) small missile travelling at high speed towards an aircraft. Too much happening too fast, too easy for it to all go wrong.

    Whats wrong with radar and chaff/flares ?? Works for military aircraft and Airforce One just fine. Its also infinitely cheaper and easier to fit and more effective.

    Paris...coz she'd do Flares !!! (Wear them that is)

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    But men don't need pads - men don't menstruate.

    At least, *I* don't menstruate. I can't speak for other men; I haven't asked.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    @ Rob - 10,000 Feet

    If a Missile is designed to home in on its target optically (IR) do you think the missile will be 'looking' at the airplane or the airport?

    This is why the IR Blinding Laser must come from the target.

    The Objective is not to 'paint' a targetting dot on the airplane! the aim is to protect it by blinding the Missile.

    These are NOT the High Power Missile Destroying Lasers, These are the Low Power Optical Blinding Lasers. (like laser pointers)

  35. Frank


    I thought a MANPAD was a personal item that an elderly gentleman would be likely to wear?

  36. Paul C. Hartley

    All very well but...

    What about protection against the much more realistic threat of ....


  37. Anonymous Coward


    >But men don't need pads - men don't menstruate.

    It's when the piles burst though...

  38. Bob Gender


    Also worth pointing out that most (if not all) MANPADs are pretty poor at shooting down a multi-engine passenger jet. You'd tend to end up with a shredded engine and ~300 stained pairs of pants, but as we saw with the DHL jet at Baghdad in around 2005, it's pretty hard to take out an entire jet with an SA-7 or similar.

  39. Reptar

    What have we learnt from Sept 11

    The plane doesn't need defending from missiles. The plane is the missile.

    Clearly a few people a BAE missed that training day.

  40. Bob Gender

    Now with pics!

    That's just crying out for a caption contest.

  41. TimM


    Are they like MANBOOBS ?

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "...but as we saw with the DHL jet at Baghdad in around 2005, it's pretty hard to take out an entire jet with an SA-7 or similar."

    It was also pretty hard to land it afterwards, though, as I recall.

  43. Doug Lynn

    In airplaines so that they can hit rocket heat sensors

    Hi, think about it, putting the weapon in airports would do no good, rockets have 10000 feet range, 2 miles from airport. Also the plane would need line of sight to hit the rocket sensor. At airport rocket would be not pointed at it but the plane.

  44. Mark Bennett

    They should move them to the front

    That way when someone flashes the pilot with a laser pointer, the pilot can say "Call THAT a laser?" ZAAAAPPP! Here's a couple tens of kilowatts! Now, THIS is a laser!"

  45. Death_Ninja


    "MANPADS can generally reach only to 10,000-foot altitudes, it is only a threat to an airliner during landing and takeoff."

    Well, the subject of this discussion, the SA14, can threaten a commercial airliner's flight profile for 25 miles in its take off and landing procedure.

    Its not like they have to stand at the end of the runway to hit it!

    Can we leave the reports on military subjects to more credible reporters and not some amateur hack from an IT geek website?

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about...

    Using a mirrored window for the cockpit? Dibs if it's not patented.

  47. tony trolle


    still one old STA launcher unaccounted for in Europe; must be about 15 years old now.

    Can't even remember the type now.

  48. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Firstly the "Terrorist Threat" at heathrow co-incided with the 2003 Stop The War march.

    Now then, the US is still hyper-paranoid, and demanding that crazy solutions be found to hypothetical problems, and it's a British Company which is profitteering from it. Furthermore that same company has had decades of practice at ripping of governments, normally our own.

    I for one rejoice that we might actually make some money out of T.W.A.T..

  50. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  51. Anonymous Coward

    I thought

    it would be like that kid from round here (the plodcopter incident) but in reverse. The co-pilot shines a laser pointer at folk on the ground instead....

    Danger sign cos that's what they have on them.

  52. E

    @Steve Mann

    Good point. Historically - since end of WW2 - USA protected Middle East oil sources to ensure energy supplies to Europe and Japan, speedy reconstruction of which were considered important in inhibiting the spread of Soviet influence. Presumably the USA having it's hands on the throats of the countries supplying it's allies helped improve diplomatic relations between the USA and it's allies also.

    Most of the output of the Middle East has always gone to Europe and Japan.

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