Fledgling small businesses BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and United Airlines have accepted a challenge by Charles McQueary, the Homeland Security Department's undersecretary for science and technology, to solve the pervasive threat of Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) fired at domestic passenger jets.
The companies, selected from a pool of 24 that sought the contracts, lead teams that will work on adapting defenses already used on military planes and Air Force One. All will test infrared jammers that redirect heat-seeking rockets away from aircraft engines.The three companies face a difficult task. They have only six months and six million dollars between them to create a report for Congress on the feasibility of this kind of defense system. I'll repeat, only $6 million to do the study and create a report.
But I think we can all agree that this is something that must be done, no matter the cost, and sooner rather than later.
The threat of these weapons hangs like the Sword of Damocles on air travelers in this country, despite remarks made by Asa Hutchinson, Homeland Security's undersecretary for border and transportation security, who said there is "no credible threat information involving shoulder-fired rockets."
This head-in-the-sand attitude may seem like prudence, but Mr. Hutchinson obviously isn't aware of the easy availability of shoulder-fired rockets, especially in the Midwest where so many of us use them to hunt game birds like doves, pheasant and wild turkeys.
Thankfully, we as voters had the presence of mind to elect Democrats to congress last year.
Democrats like Barbara Boxer and Steve Israel who, despite what the know-nothings in Homeland Security say, had the testicular fortitude to sponsor a bill requiring anti-missile defense on all domestic passenger jets as soon as possible.
"The threat is simply too severe to allow bureaucrats to set their own timetables to make use of those protections," said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who sponsored the House version of a bill by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.Sure, it will cost at least $10 billion for that equipment, but again we all know that no price is too high for safety.
Boxer said under the Bush administration's timetable, no planes will have the systems before 2006. "That is not good enough," she said.
My only concern in this plan is that even the infrared laser SAM missile jammers won't be enough protection.
In fact I would like to propose to the congressional Democrats that ALL U.S. passenger jets should be equipped with radar-seeking guided bombs. I know, you're thinking that might be a bit expensive, but as Boxer and Israel both know we are at war with terrorists and everyone must pitch in if we're going to win.
Commercial aircraft are no exception. If a passenger jet is targeted by terrorists with a shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missile, they must be given the weapons to fire back.
So write to Israel and Boxer and encourage them to expand their bill. It may cost another $40 billion, but freedom isn't free.
tagged: rocket, passenger jets, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, United Airlines, Charles McQueary, Barbara Boxer, Steve Israel, terrorists, surface-to-air missile