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US airline industry doubts anti-missile technology

July 20, 2005

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Anti-missile technology to be tested
on U.S. airliners will not protect all aircraft from all types
of missiles and is not worth the massive investment, the
airline industry’s chief lobbyist said on Wednesday.

James May, chief executive of the Air Transport
Association, sharpened his criticism of government efforts to
try and refine military technology for potential use on
commercial planes.

“All the reports I have seen indicate that it is not fully
effective against those missiles that it is designed to defeat,
and there are a number of missiles it is simply incapable of
defeating,” May told reporters at a media roundtable.

One report cited by the trade group, which represents the
biggest U.S. airlines, was completed by the Rand Corp. earlier
this year. The report questioned the reliability of systems
under development and said it was not cost-effective to spend
up to $40 billion over 20 years to develop, install and
maintain them on up to 6,800 commercial planes.

In a letter to White House homeland security adviser
Frances Townsend last week, May said the bill could reach $100
billion. “If you look at the relative threat involved it’s
simply not worth that kind of investment,” May said.

The Homeland Security Department stressed it has not
decided whether to recommend missile protection for airliners,
although congressional lawmakers are pressing for a
requirement.

Homeland security officials say they have made progress and
plan to tell Congress in early 2006 whether the option is
feasible after testing is completed. The tests will address
cost, reliability and other concerns.

“Homeland security is committed to delivering rigorous
testing and evaluation data to decision makers next year
because that is what can best support a robust national
discussion,” department spokesman Donald Tighe said.

Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the
House of Representatives aviation subcommittee, has said at a
minimum the biggest and newest planes should be protected. Mica
has been outspoken for anti-missile protection to help respond
to ongoing Sept. 11-style threats to aviation.

Mica has proposed anti-missile systems for the Airbus A380,
which can seat up to 800 people and is scheduled for delivery
next year, and the Boeing Co. 787, its newest model that will
seat up to 250 passengers.

Northrop Grumman Corp. and BAE Systems PLC are poised next
month to test different on-board laser jamming prototypes on
cargo and commercial planes, working with FedEx Corp.,
Northwest Airlines, and American Airlines.

May said there was a “real gap” between what proponents
want and what is realistic, and said in his letter to Townsend
that more precise analysis of risks, costs, and options is
necessary.

“There may be other techniques and technologies that
address (missile) concerns at more reasonable expenditure
levels,” May wrote.

Rand recommended tighter security around airports and
design modifications that would help aircraft withstand a
missile strike. Raytheon Co. has proposed a ground-based system
at airports armed with laser technology to disrupt missile
flight.




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