Monday, March 27, 2006

Let's prioritize our threats, don't you think?

From the Sky Is Falling brigade, an alarmist cry from ABC News: Shoulder-Fired Missiles Pose Serious Threat to Passenger Jets.

The jist of the story is that any bozo with a few thousand dollars could buy a hand-held rocket launcher and blast an airplane out of the sky. And this isn't just speculation, it's already happened:

Worldwide, at least 24 civilian aircraft have been brought down by shoulder-fired missiles, and more than 500 people have been killed. And experts say that shoulder-to-air missiles can be bought for only a few thousand dollars on the black market. But U.S. commercial aircraft still have no defense system against these portable missiles

However, this raises more questions than it answers. Over what time period? What kind of civilian craft? Where did these incidents occur? How do I get a shoulder-to-air missile?

But it is unfair to suggest they don't give ANY specific example of a threat:

Last November, just minutes after takeoff from Los Angeles International Airport, an American Airlines pilot reported that something resembling a rocket might have been fired at his aircraft.
Although officials concluded it was most likely a hobby rocket, the investigation remains officially open.

"We had a scare in Los Angeles," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves on the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation. "We've been told that they cannot rule out the fact that it was a shoulder-fired missile."

BTW, Senator, the correct phrase is "cannot rule out the possibility, not fact. Of course, possibilities don't get another 200 million in federal funding for your campaign donors. One of the companies to get a contract for this work was Northrup Grumman, based in California.

Nobody wants to see 500 people dead, but in the history of aviation, that doesn't seem like the biggest threat posed to passengers. And at million a plane, there may be better ways to spend that money to protect more people.

Of course, the article doesn't tell us how much the systems cost. You have to go to another article for that. I found one in USA Today from Reuters: El Al fits fleet with anti-missile system. I don't think ABC's going to like this one:

Industry analysts say other airlines could consider such measures too costly and unreliable. The Bush administration has encouraged feasibility studies on similar onboard systems but said it may opt to fit airports with missile defences instead.
The likelihood of a shoulder-fired missile actually downing a passenger jet is considered to be remote, as such aircraft are built to withstand the loss of an engine.

The reference is to a superior concept by Raytheon Corporation to install fixed protection at the airports, rather than spend millions on airborne platforms that need constant servicing. After all, the threat is only when they take off and land. A good article on this idea is found at from the Boston Globe titled Raytheon airport grids would divert missiles

Of course, Raytheon is based in Massachusetts. I wonder which side Ted Kennedy is on?

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