Stopping missiles in their tracks

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SA-Swedish-UK collaboration may stop killer missiles aimed at airliners.Saab Avitronics, part of the Swedish-South African Saab Grintek group, has demonstrated a system that protects commercial airliners against shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles fired by terrorists.

Saab Avitronics says there have been 35 documented attempts in the last 10 years to shoot down aircraft carrying civilians. Senior marketing and sales executive Frans Vermaak – a former SA Air Force fighter pilot – says 700 000 such missiles have been manufactured since 1970. At least 150 000 are thought to be in the hands of “non-state actors”, he notes.

Herman Volker, Saab Avitronics` GM of operations, says the Civil Aircraft Missile Protection System (Camps) relies on a number of C32-type processors. These are integrated into the four MAW 300 Ultra Violet-based Missile Approach Warner (MAW), typically fitted to each aircraft. They are also integrated into the Camps central electronic unit and “BOA” electromechanical dispenser designed to dispense a new, non-pyrotechnical type of IR decoy developed by UK-based Chemring Countermeasures.

The C32 processors “are tried and tested,” says Volker. “You don`t want to experiment with new technology where people`s lives are in the balance.

“We have to be conservative in the choice of our technology,” he says, adding that the processor has more than sufficient computing power for the tasks it is called to do and has substantial upgrade potential. “The trick is to keep it simple.”

Unpleasant places

Camps was demonstrated to journalists at the SA Air Force`s Overberg test facilities near Cape Agulhas last week. Naturelink Aviation provided an Embraer 120 airliner for the test. The installed system comprised Camps and, as a reference, also a Saab Avitronics military dispenser. Based on successful trials, the system can potentially be operational on Naturelink platforms and other airliners by the middle of 2008.

The SA-based company flies missions in support of the United Nations and other world agencies to places such as Baghdad and Kabul, where aircraft are regularly fired at – and sometimes hit by surface-to-air missiles. Naturelink MD Chris Briers is keen to have the system operational. “The threat from terrorists is increasing every day,” he says, “and we fly into some very unpleasant places.”

Vermaak says the major threat to airliners lies in the approach to landing and the moments just after take-off when the aircraft is close to the ground and flying a predictable flight path. It typically takes 10 seconds to fire a missile and another few seconds for it to hit the plane.

Missiles are also often fired in pairs. Camps, Vermaak says, can identify a missile lock on and launch in a second, and deploy pyrophoric countermeasures via BOA in a further second, proof of fast processing.

Göran Karlström, Vermaak`s colleague, adds the system was designed with cost in mind. The US laser-based Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) system was developed after an attempt by al-Qaeda to down an Israeli tourist charter flight in Mombassa, Kenya, in December 2002. It reportedly sells for about $3 million each, but can only engage one missile at a time. For this reason, US military transports using DIRCM carry up to three turrets. Camps will be considerably cheaper. “We plan to sell at one-third of the cost of DIRCM,” Karlström says.



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