Guiding Airplanes from Above
(May 2007) Just five feet long and roughly 35 pounds, shoulder-launched missile systems are easy to conceal by terrorists and often use infrared homing to find their targets. These systems—called MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems)—are not only a real concern for commercial airlines; they are a real challenge for homeland security agencies searching for a workable counter-strategy. Science and technology to the rescue.
Technologies now being explored could be mounted onto planes, aiming to both detect and deflect MANPADS. But airlines would prefer countermeasures that they would not have to operate and maintain. Therefore, through research sponsored by the Explosives Division at the S&T Directorate, another option is gaining ground: flying a single, unmanned vehicle or system high above an airport—at about 65,000 feet—to scan the area below, identify a MANPADS launch, and remotely deflect the weapon out of the sky in a matter of seconds.
Named Project Chloe (after the character on the popular television show 24), this project involves engagement with both industry and the military. In fact, a broad agency announcement, requesting proposals, was released and is available at www.fedbizopps.gov.
Because of the high altitude of such a vehicle, researchers are also looking at using the same project to defend against security threats adjacent to the airports. These may include illegal border crossings and threats to nearby highways, waterways, and other critical infrastructures.
“Project Chloe will definitely require us to take a look at game-changing technologies over the next several years,” said Kerry Wilson, who manages the Counter-MANPADS Program at the Directorate. “If successful, this concept will go a long way in protecting the Nation from MANPADS and other threats.”