Missile launch detection system for commercial airports

Ground-based detector array that senses the firing of a shoulder-launched missile or similar weapons system at an aircraft during takeoff and landing


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Soldiers fire a Man-portable Air Defense System, (MANPAD) during a live-fire exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Brad Mincey/DoD)

FBI warnings concerning threats to civil aircraft from shoulder-launched infrared missiles has caused concern among government agencies about the impact of such an attack. Consequences would include a significant loss of life, that is several hundred innocent victims in the air and on the ground; a total disruption of air traffic; and a significant setback to the U.S. economy and the economy of our allies.

In response, the Navy has developed a relatively simple yet highly effective and cost-efficient air defense ground-based launch detection system which lowers the potential of commercial aircraft being attacked by a shoulder-launched missile or similar weapons system. The solution comprises two columns of infrared sensors/cameras positioned on each side of an airport flight path, facing towards the center of the flight path. Sensor detection sectors overlap which results in very reliable launch detection since there must an agreement between at least two optical sensors that a launch has occurred.

Each sensor broadcasts all potential threat data to its neighbor sensors. Once a threat missile is verified, threat data is sent to a centrally located processing facility which includes a data processing computer. The centrally located processing facility will then determine which aircraft in the vicinity are potential targets and send a dispense countermeasure signal to the threatened aircraft. Each sensor includes an electro-optical sensor, a data processor and an antenna for communicating with the central node via a wireless link. The aircraft upon receiving the dispense countermeasure signal dispenses a countermeasure which may be a flare, chaff or other countermeasures which re-routes a missile from its target. Alternatively, ground-based laser or RF countermeasures can be used.

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