Trouble in the Skies
Reported by Stew Magnuson
As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pay for tests on systems designed to thwart shoulder-fired missiles from taking down commercial airliners, a potential barrier looms on the horizon.
Any time a U.S. commercial aircraft carrying such technology flies overseas, it would be in violation of federal laws prohibiting the export of military technology.
DHS is currently in phase three of a congressionally mandated program to test the feasibility of laser-based counter missile systems. Affordability, maintenance costs and logistical concerns are seen as some of the major roadblocks to implementation. The Arms Export Control Act and its International Traffic in Arms Regulations, better known as ITAR, regulates the export of military technology overseas.
“If you put this technology on a commercial airplane, as soon as you fly overseas, you’ve exported it,” James Tuttle, DHS program executive for the aircraft protection program, said at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement conference.
Two contractors, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, are working on competing laser-based technologies that both derived from military research. The technology would fall under two categories of the munitions list. One is aircraft and associated equipment. The other is fire control, range finder, optical and guidance and control equipment.
Gaining a waiver is a complicated process that involves negotiations with the State Department and Congress.
“We know some laws are going to have to change, but we want to make sure we are protecting the technology,” Tuttle said. Tamper-proof seals on the devices would be a possible solution, he added.
When testing is complete, Congress will have to decide whether to fund the system.
An additional hurdle will be the Federal Aviation Administration, which has the responsibility of approving any technology incorporated onto a commercial airliner.
“Congress has a lot of decisions to make to say the least,” Tuttle said.