BAE Systems in the hunt for security contract

BAE Systems is one of three firms the Department of Homeland Security wants to hire to help protect the airline industry against missile attacks.

BAE, Northrop Grumman Corp. and United Airlines were all chosen to receive $2 million to develop a technological plan that would protect civilian airplanes from shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, a weapon of terrorists.

The three companies were chosen from 24 competitors vying for the program, the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Division announced.

The companies have not yet been awarded contracts, but are finalists that will now enter into negotiations with the department to develop usable technology.

Under the agreement, BAE Systems’ Information & Electronic Warfare Systems unit in Nashua will develop a plan for a system to help airlines defend against the potential infrared missile threats.

BAE will receive $2 million for the first phase of the project, which will last about six months. At that time, the Department of Homeland Security will consider a second phase that would include developing a prototype demonstration and rigorous testing of existing technology.

BAE plans to offer the technologies around a system that works by firing a laser at the guidance head of a heat-seeking missile.

Don Donovan, president of the Electronic Warfare/Electronic Protection line of business at BAE’s IEWS facility, was pleased that BAE was selected as a finalist.

“BAE Systems is privileged to commit its skills and experience to minimize the threat and provide the American people with the right solution,” Donovan said in a written statement. “That is what we do best.”

The Department of Homeland Security spent $2 million in 2003 to conduct the study, will spend about $60 million this year further looking into it and will request an additional $60 million in 2005. The decision whether to proceed with a second phase will be subject to available funding.

There is no particular concern about upcoming attacks on commercial aircraft, said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security. Rather, the initiative is part of the department’s ongoing effort to keep the skies safe.

“The president and the secretary are taking a very aggressive approach on measures to counter the potential threat of shoulder-fired missiles,” said Dr. Charles McQueary, undersecretary of the Science and Technology Division.

The efforts are part of a larger undertaking that includes completing security assessments and implementing responsive measures at the nation’s airports to reduce the number of weapons available to terrorists.

Existing defenses, such as infrared jamming devices that redirect heat-seeking missiles away from aircraft engines, are used on military planes, including Air Force One. It could be years before commercial planes carry antimissile systems.

BAE submitted white papers in response to a solicitation last October. Of the 24 candidates, five were invited to submit full proposals. Each of these final candidates gave a four-hour oral presentation to government representatives, including officials from the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Transportation, State and Treasury.

The initiative is intended to adapt existing technology from military to commercial aviation use, rather than to develop new technology. The system should not be noticeable to passengers, said Parney Albright, assistant secretary of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Division.

Homeland Security officials would not say whether the airline industry would shoulder the cost of putting such systems on planes or whether implementation would be mandatory. That will depend on the cost of the technology, ground support issues and other concerns, Albright said.

“We’re optimistic that we’ll be better positioned to so that one day our skies can be free of this threat,” Hutchinson said.

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