Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 13, 2016

After MH17, Senator Revives Commercial Airliner Anti-Missile Defense Idea

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., talks with reporters Jan. 14. after the Republican Senate luncheon in the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Kirk talks with reporters Jan. 14. after the Republican Senate luncheon in the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., told the Washington Post Friday that, in the aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 disaster and with shoulder-fired missiles proliferating in places like Libya in Iraq, he would press the Federal Aviation Administration to install anti-missile defenses on commercial airliners.

It probably won’t be an easy sell. Right after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the idea had some real momentum. But it eventually suffered a long, slow death over cost, reliability and need.

The focus back then was on shoulder-fired missiles, known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems or the unfortunate acronym of MANPADS. Evidence points to MH17 being shot down by a more advanced missile system.

A Department of Homeland Security program got $60 million in fiscal 2004 for a program to outfit commercial airliners with defenses against those missiles, then $61 million in fiscal 2005 and $108.9 million in fiscal 2006. But by fiscal 2007, then-President George W. Bush requested only $4.9 million.

In all, $276 million went into the effort, but by fiscal 2010 the money had dried up.  Although contractors and other advocates protested that there were cheaper options, the estimated cost figure of $43 billion over 20 years that circulated was hard to overcome.

Besides that, there were other issues. Laser systems mounted to the commercial airliners would add weight and affect aerodynamics of a plane, warned the airlines. From an article on a 2008 testing program:

American Airlines on Thursday said it is participating in the program, but added it is “not in favor of installing counter-MANPADS on commercial aircraft.”

The airline believes protection is best accomplished by preventing terrorists from getting shoulder-fired missiles, or by using ground-based systems, spokesman John Hotard said.

But the airline said it is willing to participate because it “wants to understand the development” of these technologies that might be available in the future.

As of 2006, reliability was still a real problem, per this CQ Homeland Security News story (subscribers only):

Charles E. McQueary, outgoing DHS Undersecretary for Science and Technology, said in February that the systems under development still are not meeting reliability standards and need to be serviced, on average, once every 1,200 hours of flying time; they need to beat a 3,000-hour threshold.

Given that there’s no history of such attacks on U.S. commercial airliners or even much history of the threat of them — an argument raised by opponents of anti-missile defense on commercial airliners even amid the post-2001 fears — Kirk could have an uphill effort ahead of him for his FAA petition.

But expect there to be a broader revival of the push than just from Kirk;  for instance, Frost & Sullivan Aerospace and Defense Senior Industry Analyst Brad Curran released a statement Thursday evening that said:

Governments and airlines need to reassess their reluctance to equip civil airlines with missile defense systems which are currently installed on many military aircraft. As of now, only a few aircraft assigned to transport government officials have these systems. However, it has been reported that El Al has been equipping their planes with anti-missile technology since 2004, and the systems are installed on the majority of their fleet.

Ongoing discussions about equipping civil aircraft with missile defense systems have been about providing a basic level of protection against manpads or man-portable anti-aircraft missiles – small, short-range weapons that are easily hidden and accessible to terrorists.

Defending against a comprehensive air defense system fielded by a nation-state, equipped with a variety of radars, missile guidance systems, and long-range sophisticated missiles, has not been considered.

Time’s Mark Thompson has more here, too, on the history of missile defenses on planes.

Comments (20)

  1. Themistocles

    July 19, 2014
    3:36 p.m.

    Fully afree with this effort. It is a good opportunity to avoid such phaenomena like the nowadays tragedy.

  2. Derfallbright

    July 19, 2014
    9:27 p.m.

    I agree it needs to be reviewed … but should not be paid for by tax payers who may never fly.

  3. Anonymous

    July 7, 2015
    7:47 a.m.

    You can definitely see your enthusiasm within the work you write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

  4. Anonymous

    July 9, 2015
    6:21 a.m.

    I would like to thnkx for the efforts you have put in writing this blog. I am hoping the same high-grade blog post from you in the upcoming as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings quickly. Your write up is a good example of it.

  5. Anonymous

    July 12, 2015
    2:44 p.m.

    naturally like your web site however you need to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very troublesome to inform the reality then again I?¦ll certainly come again again.

  6. Anonymous

    July 18, 2015
    9:15 a.m.

    Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  7. Anonymous

    July 21, 2015
    5:57 a.m.

    It is truly a great and helpful piece of information. I’m satisfied that you simply shared this useful info with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Anonymous

    July 24, 2015
    11:16 a.m.

    I simply could not go away your website before suggesting that I really enjoyed the usual information a person supply on your visitors? Is going to be again ceaselessly to inspect new posts.

  9. Anonymous

    July 25, 2015
    12:31 a.m.

    I as well think hence, perfectly pent post! .

  10. Anonymous

    July 26, 2015
    12:14 a.m.

    A lot of thanks for all of the efforts on this site. My mother takes pleasure in working on internet research and it’s really easy to understand why. All of us learn all regarding the compelling way you render effective things through this web site and in addition encourage contribution from visitors on this concept then our own princess is really learning a lot. Take pleasure in the remaining portion of the new year. You’re the one conducting a splendid job.

  11. Anonymous

    July 28, 2015
    8:54 a.m.

    I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for. Do you offer guest writers to write content for you? I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on a few of the subjects you write related to here. Again, awesome weblog!

  12. Anonymous

    July 30, 2015
    7:42 p.m.

    Great wordpress blog here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate people like you! take care

  13. Anonymous

    July 31, 2015
    2:47 p.m.

    Dead written subject matter, regards for selective information. “Necessity is the mother of taking chances.” by Mark Twain.

  14. Anonymous

    Aug. 2, 2015
    5:57 p.m.

    Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

  15. ornamenty piotrków

    Aug. 5, 2015
    8:22 a.m.

    Every once in a although we decide on blogs that we read. Listed beneath are the most recent web sites that we decide on

  16. Anonymous

    Aug. 6, 2015
    7:56 a.m.

    Great write-up, I am regular visitor of one’s site, maintain up the excellent operate, and It’s going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time.

  17. Anonymous

    Aug. 7, 2015
    6:33 a.m.

    Keep up the fantastic work, I read few content on this site and I believe that your weblog is really interesting and holds bands of great information.

  18. Anonymous

    Aug. 9, 2015
    5:56 p.m.

    Excellent site. A lot of helpful information here. I am sending it to a few pals ans also sharing in delicious. And naturally, thank you in your sweat!

  19. Anonymous

    Sept. 2, 2015
    2:39 p.m.

    rXN9Dd There is noticeably a bundle to know about this. I assume you produced particular nice points in attributes also.

  20. desene animate cu tom si jerry

    Sept. 4, 2015
    5:33 p.m.

    Really appreciate you sharing this article post.Really looking forward to read more. Fantastic.

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...