Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Do Civilian Airliners Need Military Style Countermeasures?

In the wake of the “accidental” shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over rebel-held east Ukrainian last July 18, 2014, is there a need for military style countermeasures in civilian planes?

By: Ringo Bones

Even though an ongoing investigation has yet to determine whether the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 by a Russian made BUK / SAM surface-to-air missile over the pro Russian rebel held eastern Ukrainian airspace back in July 18, 2014 is accidental or deliberate, the world’s airline industry has since contemplated whether civilian passenger planes now need military style protection systems. Given the capabilities of your typical military style surface-to-air-missile or other anti-aircraft weapons systems, is the concept even technically feasible in planes now in current use on airline companies?

Ever since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the heightened airport boarding and on-board security on passenger planes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, TSA and other security agencies have since made hijackings of planes and crashing them into buildings a thing of the past. But back in July 18, 2014, the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 flying at around 595 miles per hour 32,000 feet over east Ukrainian airspace by a surface-to-air missile that can fly over 2,000 miles per hour and can shoot down a plane flying up to 70,000 feet raised a yet unprecedented aspect on the safety of civilian air travel yet again.

Inexplicably since 9/11, the ongoing War on Terror has seem to have sent the global defense industry on a decline since Al Qaeda and other similar groups doesn’t have an air force equipped with supersonic capable fighter planes. Thus the bulk of the military aviation related spending of the War on Terror centers around military transport planes similar to the Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules – like the Airbus A400M Military Transport that can carry well-armed infantry troops to the terrorist’s strongholds as opposed to engaging Osama Bin Laden in a dogfight 70,000 feet above Kandahar.

Even though military transport planes with a similar flight envelope to your typical civilian airliner had been equipped with various countermeasures – i.e. aluminum chaff and magnesium flare dispensers - that enable them to evade surface-to-air missiles since the height of the Cold War, these SAM countermeasures have yet to find their way to an Airbus or a Boeing passenger plane owned by a commercial airline company. Near the end of the 2014 Farnborough Air Show, British aerospace firm BAE Systems said that the civilian aviation industry needs military style protection in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 back in July 18, 2014. But even though the idea of installing military style countermeasures on civilian airliners is technically feasible will it be economically viable from the airline company’s perspective? Or is this just another way for aerospace firms to make money in the post 9/11 world? Maybe civilian airlines will now start to have their radar intercept officers to avoid them being brought down by radar guided "beam-rider" SAMs.


  1. Back in January 7, 2004, CNN ran a news report about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security selecting three companies to consider research into ways to thwart shoulder-fired missile attacks on U.S. commercial aircraft. BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and United Airlines will each receive 2-million US dollars to determine whether systems used on military planes that thwart shoulder-fired missiles fired at them can be adopted for use on civilian airliners and to study associated safety, cost, maintenance and other issues. So far, no word yet on the results or decisions whether to make ones that deters attacks from full-sized surface-to-air missiles like the BUK.

  2. And the alternative will be flight attendants chucking out bin-fulls of torn up aluminum foil and shooting out hand-held distress flare guns in order to confuse Soviet era SAMs and BUKs that are about to knock them out of the sky? I think a radar-intercept-officer or RIO on the cockpit of a civilian airliner is a more reasonable option.