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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 15:38 GMT
El Al to fit anti-missile system
El Al airliner
All El Al aircraft already have armed sky marshals on board
Israel's national airline is ready to fit the world's first anti-missile protection system on passenger aircraft, according to reports.

El Al will install the first system on a Boeing jet over the next month, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

The system, built by Israeli defence firms, will cost about $1m per plane.

It fires invisible flares to counter rocket attacks, such as a failed attempt to bring down an Israeli airliner in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002.

The Flight Guard system has been developed by Israel's largest defence firm, Israel Military Industries, and Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries.

It is expected to be installed on six El Al jets if initial tests prove successful, and eventually on the rest of the airline's 30-strong fleet, Haaretz reported.

This is an intermediate step... in the future aircraft will rely on infra-red and laser jamming systems
Jim O'Halloran, Editor, Jane's Land-Based Air Defence
The airline will deploy the system on "high risk" routes in Asia and Africa, as US and European aviation authorities have not approved their use for civil aviation.

El Al has long placed a high value on in-flight security, and deploys armed plain-clothes sky marshals on all flights.

The Flight Guard system fires so-called "dark flares" if radars on board an aircraft detect an incoming rocket attack.

The flares, which have been designed to be invisible to the naked eye in order to reduce the chances of panic among passengers, confuse the missile's heat-seeking systems, sending them off course.

VIP treatment

Military aircraft from a number of countries have used a similar system in the past.

Anti-missile flares have also been fitted to private jets and VIP aircraft, such as Air Force One, the US president's plane.

The El Al development is the first time flares have been fitted to civilian passenger jets, although other airlines are believed to be interested in the system.

Jim O'Halloran, editor of Jane's Land-Based Air Defence, told BBC News that the Israeli system was essentially an interim development until a more sophisticated defence is completed.

"This is an intermediate step to protect aircraft today but in the future they will rely on infra-red and laser jamming systems," he said.

US and European aviation officials believe such a system will be less controversial to use in built-up areas close to western airports, Mr O'Halloran said.

The next generation system, codenamed Britening by Israeli engineers, is being backed by United Airlines in conjunction with the US arm of British defence firm BAe Systems, he added.


SEE ALSO:
Israel seeks US anti-missile help
25 Dec 02 |  Middle East
Air marshals: Lessons from Israel
19 Dec 02 |  Middle East
El Al sets security standards
05 Jul 02 |  Americas


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