Countermeasure Systems Could Have Possibly Saved MH-17

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  • 11:35 AM, July 18, 2014
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Countermeasure Systems Could Have Possibly Saved MH-17
AH-64D flares in action on Apache Helicopter

Missile deflection devices such as the chaff or flares or electronic counter-measures could have saved the Malaysian airliner MH-17 from being hit by a missile.

Aircraft of El-Al, the Israeli airline are equipped with flares countermeasures after having been target of the failed 2002 airliner attack. The anti-missile system Flight Guard, which costs about $1 million per plane, was developed by the Israel Military Industries together with Elta Systems.

The Northrop Grumman Guardian is a passive anti-missile countermeasure system designed specifically to protect commercial airliners from shoulder-launched missiles (commonly known as MANPADS), using directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) technology. MH-17 possibly was not hit by MANPADS as it was way out of range of MANPADS.

In 2003, US released the Commercial Airline Missile Defense Act that directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to sponsor a research and development program that would result in a missile defense system that could be installed on commercial airliners; the bill also authorized funding for the program.

As a result, the DHS initiated the "counter-MANDPADS" or "C-MANPADS" program in January, 2004, which tasked several defense contractors to adapt existing military countermeasures systems to commercial usage.

There is no recommendation from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to install counter-measures (CMs) against missiles.  Some years ago when there was a clamour to safeguard airliners against missiles, the IATA had questioned about wether there is industry support for CMs to be deployed on commercial aircraft, and argued that the cost of these systems could potentially bankrupt smaller airlines.

Existing CM systems could cost up to $3 million per aircraft, although Saab claims that the price tag for CAMPS is closer to $500,000. Instead, IATA proposes beefing up international arms control regulations to restrict the export of Manpads and improving the security around airports to prevent the type of incident that occurred in Mombasa.

However, there has so far been no demand for protection against surface-to-air missiles such as the Buk, known in the West as SA-11 or SA-17 which is suspected to have downed the Malaysian airlines plane. Given the range and sophistication of the missile, an airliner is an easy target even if it is flying 3 kms above the ground at a ground speed of 900 kms.

Countermeasures are usually used to protect aircrafts from guided missiles.

Countermeasures trick or deceive radar, sonar, infrared and laser detection devices. The system may make separate targets appear to the enemy or make the real target appear to disappear or move about randomly.

Chaff and flares are specific to radar and infrared missile countering, but the electronic countermeasure can deceive any detection devices. All most all modern military units, land, air and sea practice electronic countermeasures. Extending the same countermeasures for civilian aircrafts could possibly foil terrorist missile attacks.

The system responds automatically to an approaching heat-seeking missile, firing flares that act as decoys and divert the missile away from the aircraft. Israeli military aircraft has been using this system for many years in flights under threat of heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles and air-to-air missiles.

Chaff can also be used to signal distress by an aircraft when communications are not functional. This has the same effect as an SOS, and can be picked up on radar. It is done by dropping chaff every 2 minutes.

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