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Civil Aircraft Security Against MANPADS

Tags: Air


Commercial aircraft are a target of terrorists because they represent one of the best achievements of our society: an attack has a big psychological impact on population, and thus economical activity. If a multiple attack like the ones on the Madrid railways and the London Underground were to occur in several airports spread over the globe, economy would be severely weakened. This effect would be reinforced if the terrorists underlined that London occurred after Madrid.

There exists another threat besides the 11 September twin-towers type of event: 15 000 disseminated shoulder-launched infrared guided missiles (MANPADS) which are in uncontrolled hands. Several attacks have already occurred and evidence of trafficking has been reported. Taking into account the large number of MANPADS currently known to be in the possession of over 27 terrorists groups, their relatively low cost and the vulnerability of large aircraft on landing or taking off, the probability of such attacks appears to be high.

The US is preparing some regulations to force commercial aircraft to be equipped with onboard protection systems. It is vital for Europe from a security and an economical standpoint to be able to answer this requirement. Future protection systems must be competitive, i.e. low cost and minimal perturbation on the aircraft (low mass, low drag and low consumption).


The likelihood of a terrorist attack against a commercial aircraft by firing several MANPADS missiles towards it from a populated area nearby a large airport appears to be high. The global objective of the proposed CASAM project, is to design, and validate a closed-loop laser-based DIRCM (directed infrared countermeasure) module for MANPADS jamming the fired missile(s), which will comply with the constraints of commercial air transportation, including the civil aircraft profile of flight, and will be able to defeat first and second generation MANPADS (currently the most available worldwide) and also third generation ones which may be available in the future. CASAM objectives consider that this DIRCM system shall be designed with reference to the specific requirements and constraints relevant to commercial aviation. For example, consideration must be given to the following:

  • environmentally friendly for ground objects and inhabitants close to the airport, safe for the aircraft (for maintenance, handling and usage), highly efficient against the recognised threats,
  • upgradeable for further and future disseminated threats,
  • maintainable within commercial budgets and processes.

A protection system is made of a missile detector and deceiving equipment. CASAM will concentrate research on the latter: innovative directed infrared countermeasure (DIRCM) equipment which represents the most expensive and heaviest part of a global defence system.

Description of work

During the 26-month project, CASAM will explore several technological breakthroughs in laser, optics, electromechanics and processing that will be the core of the future competitive equipment. A technical validation prototype will be tested against actual missile seeker heads. Specific effort will be put on threat analysis and simulation, economical analysis, aircraft installation constraints and impact. A specific study will be carried out on legal and regulation issues which have a prominent position in the roadmap.

The goal of the research is to progress on innovative technologies that will identify an efficient and competitive DIRCM system for use on a commercial aircraft. Military research has shown that it is possible to get efficient jamming capability. The interesting challenge and the possible risk are linked to the global requirements of airlines and airframers: low total volume, low drag, low mass, low power consumption, high reliability, low LCC, and no risk on-ground and during take-off and landing.

Part of the challenge lies in technology improvements and simplifications through an innovating approach.

The main technical DIRCM modules need innovative work:

  • Optronics have to be low volume, low mass and low cost. The opto-mechanical turret will reach outstanding performance in steering and stabilisation. New focal plane array (imagery sensor) will integrate passive and active detection modes for improved passive and active tracking modes. Line of sight stabilisation will use innovating low-cost devices.
  • Laser technology will be based on new progress in OPO crystals with a simplified architecture. For the pump laser, research will be focused on mass, volume and consumption reduction, as well as output power and pulse rate frequency improvement. OPO research will deal with wavelength conversion stage optimisation, crystal choice, arrangement and optimisation.
  • Laser technology will be based on new efficient approaches including fibre lasers and simpler frequency conversion modules (OPO), as well as directly emitting mid-infrared semiconductor lasers.
  • Tracking technology will be adapted and optimised in synergy with hardware development.


The results of the project will be:

  • a DIRCM prototype test article to be ground tested,
  • a validation of this developed innovative DIRCM system’s effectiveness with respect to the operational requirements due to a set of laboratory tests and open range tests.

Due to the sensitivity of the topic related to the security of commercial flights, the vast majority of technical data, drawings and sketches released by the project during its course will be classified as confidential and put under tight access control.