Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.
« Locked Call Boxes and Banned Geiger Counters |
| Another Schneier Interview »
January 18, 2008
Anti-Missile Technology on Commercial Aircraft
There have been stories previously, but this time it looks like it will actually happen:
Up to three American Airlines jets carrying passengers will be outfitted with anti-missile technology this spring in the latest phase of testing technology to protect commercial planes from attack.
The technology is intended to stop a missile attack by detecting heat given off from the rocket, then firing a laser beam that jams the missile's guidance system.
I have several feelings about this. One, it's security theater against a movie-plot threat. Two, given that that's true, attaching an empty box to the belly of the plane and writing "Laser Anti-Missile System" on it would be just as effective a deterrent at a fraction of the cost. And three, how do we know that's not what they're doing?
More news here.
Posted on January 18, 2008 at 11:29 AM
• 73 Comments
To receive these entries once a month by e-mail, sign up for the Crypto-Gram Newsletter.
In the arms business, this is the best way to make a fortune -- create a weapon or a defense which will never be tested. Make some testable demonstration models to sell the idea, but since the emplaced systems will never ever be tested, it's enough to substitute look-alike dummies and pencil-whip the rest of the 'work' -- for which you will bill the customer the full amount.
I have a homeopathic missile defense system for sale. And it works without broadcasting all those negative waves.
I bet it will be as effective as the other systems.
"...attaching an empty box to the belly of the plane and writing "Laser Anti-Missile System" on it would be just as effective a deterrent..."
Only until someone fired a SAM at the aircraft, that is. And, while it is unlikely the bad guys are going to be targeting commercial aircraft with Stingers or RPG-7s anytime soon, it is even *more* unlikely that they will see the box on an aircraft in flight and decide to target somebody else.
What *I* want to know is how they are going to *prove* this system is effective?
"What *I* want to know is how they are going to *prove* this system is effective?"
Every day that goes by where no SAM attack has succeeded, they will announce the system's success.
Hmmm. So if a hijacker successfully takes over the plane, we can't shoot it down anymore?
Duh. Hope they got another good way to "hard-stop" that bad boy. Or the bad guys would hijack with intent to steal the plane, 'disposing' of passengers, and use it to their advantage. The law of unintended consequences + terrorist ingenuity = -good.
The more logical place to make the adjustment would be at the product end -- construct each missile with one of the small GPS chipsets as part of the processor core. If you can restrict the usability of the missile by geography and time, you can to be more selective about which jets to fit with an IR jamming system -- if you were flying into certain hot-spots it might be a logical precaution to implement on a commercial aircraft.
While older missiles wouldn't be fitted with the restriction, they don't have an indefinite lifetime anyway, due to the warhead, propellant, and other elements aging. So you can wait out the window of vulnerability, and the arms manufacturer can sell more weapons -- "Oh, you need the 'land war in Asia' upgrade. That'll be extra..."
However, agree that its a foolish and expensive over-reaction to fit out the US commercial fleet with such a system. Not to mention that I believe few countries aside from the US have yet shot down a commercial passenger jet with a ground-to-air missile. Perhaps we should also fit radar jamming packages to protect passenger jets against US ship captains?
So how will they shoot down hijacked planes now?
"how they are going to *prove* this system is effective?"
Maybe they should put the management and the engineers of the manufacturer on board of a plane and try to shoot it down?
What I want to know is what they will do against two or three guys with machine guns?
It is a movie-plot threat indeed, but life emulates movies (especially bad ones). Keywords are "Arkia IZ582".
Who is paying?
I can't imagined a single airline that would pay for such a system that would be expensive to install and maintain, would be marginal protection at best against an almost unheard of threat and would reduce the passenger carrying capacity of the plane for its entire lifetime.
Who would fly with an airline that admitted that there was a threat so high that such a system was a rational response? Why take the risk when trains, cars and buses exist?
How exactly is this a movie plot? There are MANPAD weapons that can shoot down planes. Stingers, for one.
How is this theatre? You really think a countermeasure to heat seeking warheads hasn't been invented?
Lastly, to all those wondering how they're might shoot down such planes should the need arise; there is more than one way to down a plane. Radar guided missiles for one. For pete's sake, haven't any of you seen TOP GUN ?
Assume that this is a relatively inexpensive system which will operate with a 100% success rate to prevent shoulder fired missiles from hitting the plane. Assume that with success a successful countermeasure the military would put one on every plane they owned.
Wouldn't the makers of shoulder fired missiles quickly develop a new weapon that WOULD work?
> a laser beam that jams the
> missile's guidance system.
Awesome! That's way cooler than my plan of wingsuited Sky Rangers with magnetic C4 bricks.
The solution to being unable to shoot down these aircraft is obvious: place a government subsidised bomb on board that passengers can detonate as needed. Penalty for misuse, of course.
You're missing the point. It's not a "movie-plot threat" because it's impossible, it's a movie-plot threat because it's sensational but extremely unlikely. How often is a commercial flight actually shot down by missiles?
It's not called "security theater" because it couldn't possibly stop any threats, or even because it actually stops zero threats; it's security theater because it's been optimized to make people feel secure rather than optimized to reduce the chances of a real failure. I'm sure insane airport security stops *some* threats, but that doesn't make it a rational security trade-off.
And the existence of other ways to shoot down a plane only moves the problem. To the extent that this system actually prevents the plane from being shot down, it prevents it from being shot down after it's hijacked, too. If that extent is small, then why bother installing the system in the first place?
Essentially this IR laser system falls into the category of "countermeasures".
Two other kinds are flares and chaff (strips of foil).
I worked for a major airplane manufacturer for six years, and amongs the DoD guys, there was always a joke about countermeasures:
Q: What's the countermeasures button?
A: The thing you hit just before you eject.
Essentially, things like this are, at best, last ditch efforts that 9 times out of 10 don't work.
This all sounds so movie-plotish --- oh, wait, there WAS a made-for-TV movie back in the late 70's or early 80's (if I recall correctly) about home-grown US anarchists firing MANPADs at commercial aircraft...
I think we could still manage to shoot down a hijacked plane. If there were a system like this that worked against military air-to-air missiles, it would be installed on actually military planes.
Making any significant change to a complex system increases the chances of failure of that system. Adding anti-missile defense also adds a risk that the system will sometimes, though perhaps rarely, contribute to an accident resulting in deaths.
So does the increased risk of deaths from the intervention outweigh the risk of deaths from not using the intervenation? In this case, no, because missile attacks on civilian planes have never occurred in this country, but equipment failures have.
There was an Iranian flight out there that wished they could have it, if there is an afterlife.
I think we could still manage to shoot down a hijacked plane. If there were a system like this that worked against military air-to-air missiles, it would be installed on actually military planes.
Posted by: FNORD
Well yeah ... this thing is slung underneath the plane, right?
All you need to do is attack from above, or, use guns to shoot it down.
Would the money be better spent for improvements to keep planes from running into each other on the runway or ensuring that they actually land on the runway?
Do a little Google search on infrared missles - Air & Space magazine had an article on how these work abut 2 years ago. The laser is just a more controlable versionof an infra-red janner that causes the missle to think it is of course and this change dirction away from the target.
Do a little Google search on infrared missles - Air & Space magazine had an article on how these work abut 2 years ago. The laser is just a more controllable version of an infra-red jammer that causes the missle to think it is of course and thus causes it to change dircetion away from the target.
Here's another movie-plot device: the laser malfunctions and cuts off the tail of the plane.
If it's illegal to point a laser at an airplane in flight, is it illegal for an airplane in flight to point a laser at me on the ground? This thing has to point at something. Sounds like another movie-plot device: airplane laser malfunctions and 1) starts California wildfires, 2) splits multiple homes in half, 3) incinerates random people on the ground, 4) blinds the air traffic controller guy in the tower causing many airplanes to crash.
And if v1.0 of the laser-countermeasure doesn't work, then all the more reason to upgrade to v2.0--at twice the cost.
>> EdT: What *I* want to know is how they are going to *prove* this system is effective?
Reminds of a sketch -- Abbott and Costello, I think -- wherein Lou is hopping on one leg and performing some bizarre hand-waving sequence, to which the following dialog proceeds:
Bud: Why are you doing that?
Lou: Keeps elephants away.
Bud: What?? Are you crazy?!?!? There aren't any elephants within fifty miles of here!!
Lou: See? It works.
1. Where did the bad guys get the IR seeking missles? - ah, thought so.
2. Does not protect against missiles guided from the ground such as radar guided or wire guided.
3. Does not protect against unguided weapons such as RPG's.
4. Who is paying for this? Ah - the passenger. Who profits? Oh, some big military hardware company. Who'd-a-thunk-it.
5. Pilots union are pretty well educated in this area, many ex military. If they're saying it's a waste, then I'm inclined to believe them.
Sorry, that was a radar guided missile. The IR countermeasures mentioned here would not prevent that downing.
Same for everyone else talking about not shooting down missiles. The AmRam missile used by the AirForce can't be jammed by IR, Flares, or Chaff. It's also shoot and leave it (to duck out of the way). It's also over the horizon.
This is for MANPAD devices like the AIM9 Sidewinder, or the even older Stinger.
Everyone also keeps forgetting about the Airliner in Africa that had two Russian made AIM9 type missiles that flew just past it. Yes, it is *incredibly* rare, but it has been used as an attack device.
Personally, I'd rather have them spend the 5k or 10k to keep the cockpit safe. I'd also like to see them spend more money on fire prevention in flight, as well as better ways to deal with depressurization (think the Greek airplane tragedy, and several other private craft). The FAA should be not "promoting" airlines, but providing safety above all "promotion".
I have a problem with weapons-quality lasers being mounted on commercial aircraft. Who will maintain those lasers? Are civilian airline mechanics going to be doing so? Who will pay to train them? Reminds me of when I worked as a guard and was told I'd be carrying a sidearm. When I asked about training I was told it wasn't important, because the gun wouldn't have ammunition.
And what can these lasers do? I'm guessing they overload the heat-sensors on missiles, but what else would they do? I know nothing about them. If they are fired, will they blind people on the ground? Change the channels on TVs? Damage buildings or cars?
Could these be removed from their planes and used for nefarious purposes? What would prevent that?
The AIM-9 Sidewinder is not a MANPAD, it's an aircraft-launched (for the pedantic, a ground-launched version was used by the US Army for a while) air-to-air IR missile. These laser countermeasures systems are aimed at real MANPADS like these:
There are others out there, but these 5 are the ones that have flooded the markets courtesy of the Cold War proxy wars.
Jeremy, manpads shoot down about one airliner per year. (at least 24 since 1975). All of you, look up the background on manpads, countermeasures, etc. It's not that hard nor secret. This is not a movie plot threat, it's one where the threat cost vs defense cost is debatable. For an example of what a manpad does to a modern airliner look at
That is not one of the 24 airliners shot down. They managed to land it intact. It was hit in a poor security area (Iraq post invasion but before the major increases in violence). Most of the incidents have involved poor security areas, but not war zones. In active fighting zones, like current Iraq, air traffic routinely use flares as a countermeasure.
The debate in the aviation world has been a fully appropriate cost vs threat debate. Opinions vary with something in the range $500,000 to $1million per aircraft being the point where it is not worth installing the defense. The countermeasure technologies have been coming down in price and this is an evaluation of new systems. They might have the cost low enough.
The threat assessments do include estimates regarding the ease of getting close enough to an airport to get a good shot at an airliner. There is some guess work in these estimates, but many airports have less than 1 mile exclusion zones around their runways. They are vulnerable if someone can smuggle the manpad in without getting caught. Attempts have been stopped due to detection of the missiles, e.g., Rome 1973 Black September attempt on Golda Meir.
The threat of MANPADS attacks on commercial aircraft is not quite as rare as most commenters, or Bruce for that matter, seem to think. It isn't all that common, but there have been 24 attacks so far. That makes it much rarer than accidential crashes, but then the amount they are spending on this is tiny compared to the totality of aircraft safety measures.
Further, the incidence is currently geographically concentrated in Africa, former Soviet Union and the Middle East; the incidence is also rising fairly rapidly, as the total number of these weapons now outside government control is believed to now be about 7,500. Thus mounting the system on aircraft operating in the continental US might or might not be a good trade off at present, yet it may be an excellent idea to use them on flights to Chechnya,Baghdad or Kabul. Later, if missile proliferation continues, you might be glad of having a system with long operational experience to iron out the bugs and bring down prices.
It is true these countermeasures will be effective only against IR guided missiles, but the overwhelming majority of missiles outside government control are of that type. In fact there are no radar guided missiles that can be shoulder launched; they all require some sort of combat vehicle to carry them, whether a military aircraft or a launcher vehicle. (There has existed such a thing as a shoulder launched optically tracked SAM but the type is obsolescent as they require tremendous skill to use and then still can't hit the side of the barn.)
How will they be able to test it? Same way they test military aircraft's anti-missile system: mount them on a drone, and fire live missiles at the drone. (Well, that's the final, most expensive and most rigorous phase of testing, there's obviously lots of other stuff possible.)
Where did the bad guys get the missiles? Overwhelmingly from the break up of the former Soviet Union and its client states. For example, in just one incident a couple of months ago, a fire and explosion in a former Soviet client in Africa (can't remember if it was Angola or Mozambique) resulted in hundreds of heavy weapons going missing. There is continual muttering about the Stingers the CIA gave to the jihadis in the Afghan War, but no such missile has even been used and they are past their used by date now.
@rjh: if the discussion was about installing these countermeasures on flights world-wide, or solely on international flights, you might have a point. As it is, they're talking about installing these on US domestic flights, where we have _never_ had a missile take out a commercial aircraft. It's not that it's a bad idea because it wouldn't work; it's a bad idea because there are a lot of other more significant risks to spend money defending against.
What if the detector senses the airliner behind it, waiting in line at Boston to take off? Or is it smart enough to turn off on the ground? What if the pilot forgets to turn it on after takeoff?
If two airliners pass each other at altitude, will the lased-defended one think the other aircraft is a missile and turn on its laser?
I've seen the official description of this somewhere and it says something to the effect of: "...missile will be safely directed away from the aircraft..."
So my question is (and this is a *serious* question -- if you know the answer please post): if some plane at JFK gets shot at, where does the missile get "safely directed" to!? Even if the thing doesn't arm, isn't a big heavy piece of metal going to land on some road or building in the middle of the city? Instead of x people dead on a plane, do we have x dead on the ground?
The story I've heard is that this is mostly for the benefit of El Al and companies like it. It's unlikely to be useful for any airplanes flying between states in the US itself, but it could probably save some lives in some of the more dangerous areas in the Middle East.
I'd think there are much cheaper ways to throw off the type of surface-to-air weaponry guerrilla groups are likely to carry around, though.
1) It's not a movie plot threat. It's already happened. (Google Kenya, Israel and missle).
2) Did you miss the word "testing"? There's no explanation of what the installation phase would be. Apparently you're assuming it would go on the entire fleet when you have no basis at all for that assumption.
3) Nothing but rank cynicism. You have no evidence to suggest that this is some nefarious plot to "test" an non-existent device. Furthermore the idea that large corporations would collaborate with the federal government to fool the nation when they could have simply said nothing is silly in the extreme.
I'm wondering about baseline-fallacy issues. These are military weapons, designed for use in military situations where a fairly high proportion of false-positive "friendly fire" incidents is quite acceptable.
In real-life civilian use, such false positives are not acceptable. What's worse, they're actually likely to happen more often, because of the rarity of true-positive situations.
"The laser is just a more controllable version of an infra-red jammer that causes the missle to think it is of course and thus causes it to change dircetion away from the target."
This kind of jammer only works against first-generation IR homing missiles (single detector with notched plate spinning in front of it. Spinning plate modulates the IR source which is interpreted as steering signals. Jammer messes up the modulation and the missile veers off).
second-generation (array of sensors) aren't fooled by jammers, you just give them more energy to home in on.
These missiles need to be blinded, i.e. have their sensors burnt out.
Please note that a laser capable of blinding a missile is equally capable of blinding other kinds of optical receptors (e.g. "eyeballs").
Countermeasures:Lame, unless you get serious, and not play with $ ROI laser crap. Flashy lights, just for cops.
Its 2008, we have small computers, and lots of cool toys out there, this is *countermeasures*? WTF? No wonder why we couldn't even consider the Iraq war issue properly.
We all are being scammed. Its time to grow up. A little laser on the bottom? How about a mod that flies the rocket above the plane, and heat signature down?
Seriously, the fact that we don't have a mini-anti-missile system to take out an incoming threat [plane included] is LAME. You got radar, gps, computers, on a plane. Even a bunch of well funded geeks could do much better. And that really is the point...
Even a smart 12 year old, would think up of a basic missile system that plays tag with threats. Come on, is this all the security we got?
My .02 cents. Our government, national security, etc, are just disaster rackets.
I think the part of this debate that is missing is:
-What new risks does installing the countermeasure create?
Is the laser technology eye-safe? Is there zero hazard to ground crews and other aircraft if this thing decides to lock onto the lunch cart or a light plane?
Military technologies are not designed to be friendly and safe. If the threat level is high enough to deploy countermeasures, the people deploying them are usually willing to live with some collateral damage.
Given that there are higher priorities in air traffic control, crowded traffic patterns, etc, I would have to think this is a poor rick-benefit and cost-benefit solution.
"It's not a movie plot threat. It's already happened."
Ahem. You read the part how this is for US domestic use only? The "technology" is so super-secret, the government is concerned about letting the cat beyond the patrolled border fence.
One speculates that the first time a MANPADS attack is undertaken in the US, the missile will not be using a single-pixel (first generation) seeker, as it will almost certainly be stolen from current US inventories of these toys. In other words: $600 million (and counting) for nothing.
(Arguably, spending almost nothing to remove all MANPADS from US soil would do more to secure US domestic air traffic than the probable billions on ultimately ineffective countermeasures.)
Other options are multiple missiles. It is likely a similarly super-secret how many incoming missiles these systems can deal with, but one speculates it is a low number. Perhaps even as low as 1 per installed unit.
You call this cynicism? I call it movie threat. But, hey, if you still want this to be done, why don't you pony up the cash? Is anyone stopping you?
Personally I find this story incredibly amusing on so many levels.
Sure there's some merit in the idea for use in high-risk areas (and even then it's a stretch as it's still going to be pretty darn costly and there aren't that many planes getting shot down), but only in domestic airspace? And they want to use top-secret technology they can't afford to lose? What?
But more than that I imagine the system in practice could be really funny:
*aircraft suddenly veers to one side*
"krshh Uhhhhhhhmmmm this is the Captain speaking uhhmmmmm a surface to air missle was just fired at the aircraft uhhhhhhmm but everything is fine as countermeasures have been deployed and have successfully diverted the missle"
or better yet... *she veers*
"krshh This is the Captain here uhhhhmmmm do not be alarmed we encountered a low pocket of turbulance leaving the airport uhmmmmm all is fine"
*starboard passengers see missle vear off out their windows*
What will it take for the hijacker in the plane to get into this system to blog it up it self.. I'm sure the anti-missile system have some balistic capability. for some odd reason what will have if its exploded inside the plan.. What this will do i guess is that it will help the terrorist a little more because, now he does not have to take any explosives with him.. its already made available!
As was mentioned, this scenario has happened. Luckily with no harm done.
With today's anti aircraft missiles, it is possible for a single person to stand a mile away from the airport grounds, fire a missile and disappear with no trace. Simple and effective. The only reason this was only done once is probably 'tactical' reasons on behalf of terrorist organizations.
Read all about it: http://www.google.com/search?...
from jan 18th post "another schneier interview";
"Security is fundamentally a fear sell, and so it doesn't sell very well."
so as security professionals, all we have to do is arrange the IT equivalent to 9/11 and then we can sell pointless & "feel good" defensive technologies to the masses?
sorry about the cross post, but these systems sound like the biggest "fear sell" of all time.
"""so as security professionals, all we have to do is arrange the IT equivalent to 9/11 and then we can sell pointless & "feel good" defensive technologies to the masses?"""
As 'security professionals' we're not interested in selling 'pointless & "feel good" defensive technologies'.
Ethics can be so damn inconvenient.
Folks are seeming to forget that this is still considered an R&D program. Doesnt it make sense to have some options for MANPADS countermeasures in case the threat profile changes?
I agree with Bruce's comment that the terrorists will just change technologies once these are deployed. But if (and that's a big if) USG knows that this is a preferred attack method, how could they not implement something? Or would we just wait and watch it happen?
I completely disagree with Bruce's comment that it would be just as good to put empty boxes on the planes. It it inevitable that our pseudo-capabilities would eventually make it into the public domain. The inevitable release of that info would permanently destroy any trust that the american public has in the USG and could potentially embolden terrorists.
"...if some plane at JFK gets shot at, where does the missile get "safely directed" to!? Even if the thing doesn't arm, isn't a big heavy piece of metal going to land on some road or building in the middle of the city? Instead of x people dead on a plane, do we have x dead on the ground?"
In non-terrorist situations, the problem of a SAM missing its target and hitting something on the ground is an issue mainly for the people who fired it, whose comrades presumably occupy that ground. Consequently, most SAMs have a "salvage fuze" which causes them to self-destruct in mid-air under various conditions denoting a miss. For example, the SA-7 "Grail" and its various copies (which are by far the most common SAM in non-government control) has a simple timer which will self-destruct after 15 seconds of flight if it hasn't already hit something.
Even in the event that a SAM has no salvage fuze -- or if it doesn't work -- a ground impact by a MANPAD SAM is likely to be far less deadly than one hitting an airliner. With warheads usually on the order of about 1 kg of HE, it is entirely possible for one to land at a random spot in an urban area and kill no-one; if it does hit an occupied building or vehicle, unless you are unlucky enough to have a big crowd in the room, or hit a crowded bus, the death toll will probably be one or two persons.
In contrast, hitting a jet liner t the optimal time will almost certainly result in a spectacular and fiery crash, killing hundreds of people on board and possibly dozens more on the ground.
Finally, it should be noted that precisely to mitigate the risk of crashes on takeoff, in many airports around the world the runways face onto uninhabited ground or open water, and a SAM falling there will likely do no damage at all.
@Bruce: "attaching an empty box to the belly of the plane and writing 'Laser Anti-Missile System' on it would be just as effective a deterrent at a fraction of the cost."
This strategy would fail badly. Should the rare manpad successfully shoot down an equipped plane, the fallout (no pun intended) would be heavy for all involved. The airlines for installing it would pay for it. The government agencies that directed it, approved it and were involved in hiding it from the public would all be in front of Congressional hearings.
@Anonymous of January 18, 2008 11:43 PM:
"Ahem. You read the part how this is for US domestic use only?"
Um, no, I didn't. Neither of the linked articles say that. Tuttle does say that there are concerns about using it on international flights due desires to control sensitive technology. But he doesn't say there is no intention to do so; on the contrary, the Wired article makes it clear that the main region they want to use it is the Middle East.
"One speculates that the first time a MANPADS attack is undertaken in the US, the missile will not be using a single-pixel (first generation) seeker, as it will almost certainly be stolen from current US inventories of these toys."
You can speculate that, but it's not very plausible. There are literally thousands of SA-7 and SA-14 "missing" (as well as copies of these SAMs by former USSR allies), some of which are of very recent manufacture. The US, on the other hand has so far managed to mislay ~600 SAMs -- nearly all of them FIM-92 Stingers given to the mujahideen during the Afghan War, and now so old they are very unlikely to work . So while a theft of a US SAM from US soil can't be overlooked (and hence, armoury security for these weapons is intense), it is overwhelmingly more likely that any such attack will involve an imported SA-7 or SA-14.
As for the laser only being able to defeat first generation seekers, that is speculation. Since there are concerns that the system is still to be considered secret, it is not at all obvious that it is true. I do have to say, though, that my eyes have a multi-pixel focal plane and yet I still can't seem a damn thing when someone shines their high beams at my face. In other words, if it is bright enough that all pixels deliver peak response, then the search algorithm provides no data to steer the missile. This works just the same whether there is a single spinning sensor or a zillion pixel array.
"In other words: $600 million (and counting) for nothing."
You make it sound like they've already spent $600 million, and need to spend more. On the contrary, $600 million is the estimate of how much it cost to roll the system out to all large US airliners. They haven't spent anything like that much yet.
"Other options are multiple missiles. It is likely a similarly super-secret how many incoming missiles these systems can deal with, but one speculates it is a low number. Perhaps even as low as 1 per installed unit."
Or perhaps not. By the way, I'm trying to think of the name of the rhetorical trick you have used a few times in your post (speculating about a flaw in your opponent's position, finding no evidence to refute the speculation, and then "concluding" that the opponent's position has that flaw.) It's a bit like "argument from ignorance" and a bit like "argument from silence", but I'm not sure of the proper name.
1. The designed shelf-life of the Stinger is 4 years; it can be extended by highly trained rear echelon maintenance. Stingers were supplied to the mujahiddeen from a quarter of a century ago up to about 20 years ago.
"1. Where did the bad guys get the IR seeking missles? - ah, thought so."
��? ‘Well. Ha ha. Ah, we looked at the receipt. But as soon as that check clears, we’re going in.’ ��? [Bill Hicks - circa 1992]
On a more serious note...
I personally think the better investment is the 5 to 10K per aircraft that it will cost to fit secure cabin doors! Sure my kids will never get the experience of being allowed to go see the cabin (something my parents arranged for me when I first flew at around the age of 10 - BTW the pilot even asked/let me turn a knob on the auto-pilot system that banked the plane slightly left, and back to level us out again - which I'm sure was dodgy as hell even then - circa 1982). This should be the real price of today's "security climate", not the BS we have to go through in airports or $600 million anti-missile systems.
And for the comedy value...
��? ‘Those guys were in hog heaven out there, do you understand, man? They had the big weapons catalogue opened up. "What's G12 do, Tommy?" "Well, it says here it destroys everything but the fillings in their teeth, helps us pay for the war effort. Well shit, pull that one up. Pull up G12 please." (short pause followed by missile explosion noise). "Cool, what's G13 do?"’ ��? [Bill Hicks - circa 1992]
"I'm trying to think of the name of the rhetorical trick you have used a few times in your post (speculating about a flaw in your opponent's position, finding no evidence to refute the speculation, and then "concluding" that the opponent's position has that flaw.) It's a bit like "argument from ignorance" and a bit like "argument from silence", but I'm not sure of the proper name."
'Strawman arguement' may be the term you are looking for?
I am getting a little concerned at Bruce and a lot of his followers (I am one too) dismissing everything off as 'security theatre' without looking at basic facts.
Just when we're trying to bring some reason into security thinking (like the economics and psychology), lets not ruin it with some throw-away 'security theatre' comments.
There is a lot of 'security threatre', but I wouldn't want to be the one to answer why an airliners got taken down by a SAM.
Which of course is the essence of security theatre, movie-plots, and the like.
Oh the irony!
"I am getting a little concerned at Bruce and a lot of his followers (I am one too) dismissing everything off as 'security theatre' without looking at basic facts."
The basic fact is that no plane in domestic US airspace has been shot down by a MANPADS launched SAM.
Not even an attempt has been made.
It is trivially true we can protect ourselves from all manner of threat. What about radar seeking missiles? Should passenger aircraft be equipped with the panoply of ECM normally found in combat aircraft? What about an AAM, launched from a small aircraft? Should we restructure flight rules to forbid aircraft to enter other aircraft's rear quarters, permitting possible missile or gun firing solutions?
Moving into other areas, a simple GPS based cruise missile is no longer out of the question either.
What the hell are you going to do about this?
The idea of crashing an airplane into a building wasn't novel on 2001-09-11 -- at least one piece of fiction was predicated on it. What would your response to a proposal prior to that day about securing the airplanes from such a threat? Would spending $1 million per plane be entertained as reasonable, simply because some guy in the federal bureaucracy read "Debt of Honor" and freaked out?
Here is one opinion on that question: "Four planes? That many people willing to die for the same cause at the same time? If any writer had turned in a story like this, the publisher would have just handed it back and said, 'No way. Not believable.'" (You should be able to google up the source. Ask you self: why is would his opinion be any less or more valuable than anyone elses?)
Observe what has happened since 2001-09-11, when the security apparatus per se hasn't really done anything to prevent a re-enactment beyond cockpit doors. But have cockpit doors done the job, or is it simply the relative difficulty, or maybe even interest in pulling it off -- even if there was no security whatsoever at the airport or in the airplane?
If we mount DIRCM on all US-based passenger jets at high fixed cost and perpetual running costs, will the boogie-missiles be kept at bay because of them, or because the missiles never existed in the first place?
If anyone knows, they aren't telling.
My own view is that, within reason (e.g., cockpit doors) I think we just have to accept losses. We can not anticipate every last threat, or counter it. At best we just distract ourselves from the other, more plausible, threats sneaking in from behind. If these crazy "movie plot" scenarios, like MANPADS, were worth the effort, expense, time, and so on carrying them out, I assert they already would have been done, and as a consequence, we would be in a better position (like the Middle East or Kenya) to allocate resources against the proven threat, instead of an entirely fictional one (to date) for the US domestic airspace.
"It's not called "security theater" because it couldn't possibly stop any threats, or even because it actually stops zero threats; it's security theater because it's been optimized to make people feel secure rather than optimized to reduce the chances of a real failure."
It looks more like "corporate welfare" for the supplier of the system. Especially if it's going to be deployed on aircraft which never fly anywhere such a weapon has even been fired at a commercial airliner.
There was an Iranian flight out there that wished they could have it, if there is an afterlife.
Except that this system would be of new use at all against a radar guided SAM fired by a warship.
The countermeasures for that kind of threat would effectivly turn an airliner into a bomber.
The range of manpads is silly small. You would have to be within 1 mile of the end of the runway to be within the targeting envelope of an airliner taking off. Within 20 seconds it will be out of range on takeoff. Landing airliners are a little more vunerable, but probably a less desirable target (in the process of landing already so engine explosion wont be as critical, low fuel, not much to hit where they're about to be anyway).
It seems like the best place to deal with this threat (which isn't very likely to begin with) is at the 600 or so commercial airports rather than several thousand aircraft fuselages.
Intentionally flying a radio-controlled helicopter into the intake of a jet engine is probably more likely.
I actually quite like this idea. It could prove to have some merit.
What I do oppose is anyone thinking that it is something that should be implemented straight away. Improving the cockpit doors will have a much greater payoff and should really be implemented asap.
I like the idea of the fake laser boxes. Makes people feel more comfortable at little cost and reminds me of the broomstick tail guns on the Doolittle raid. But why so much concern when there have been so few attacks of this type? Seems like an admission of ultimate failure in Iraq; that no matter when nor how we leave, we will leave behind a terrorist breeding ground that makes 90s Afghanistan look like a Sunday School.
BTW, I used to know a flight attendant who worked on charter flights carrying troops to Saudi in the 1st Gulf War. She said that one of their planes had to have repairs for a bunch of little holes that resembled a huge shotgun blast. This is consistent with a missile strike.
At that same time a friend and I infiltrated an AFB and drove around a bunch of airliners with their logos painted over. We had free access to the base and could have planted bombs if we wanted to and spent no more than ten minutes on the job. We were escorted out by MPs and were not asked for ID. They believed our story that we had come to see a film on base and had taken a wrong turn. We did have a parking sticker for a base 1200 miles away. Perhaps that helped.
I will not say what base it was, but t was an important one. No nukes there, but home to some very important aircraft.
Countermeasures: Give everyone a parachute and a cellphone, and a following lawsuit. Corporate Mindset.
Security in the USA is mostly bullshit. In a world of Micro$oft, and others, what else do you really expect?
09112001 still a joke in this country. Security is being abused for $ and power. The negative fallout will be bad, then we get hit.
Can't wait for people to get the message: Working Infrastructure at a good price. Revolving door sure bites.
Oh well, atleast we all have nice pretty TV's to watch the news.
After most commercial aircrafts are armed with such missile defense system. There will be voice to promote introducing bullet proof armor of aircrafts against bullets from terror snipers. And go on and on.
Who is not afraid of terror attacks?
What a good business model after all.
I forwarded this request to a good friend of mine who has extensive experience in aviation matters as a pilot and an administrator... This is what he had to say on this from a technical point of view.
"It seems unlikely to me."
"What they may have done, is lease three (3) aircraft from American Airlines to develop and/or test some form of anti-missile technology, but to implement it on passenger jets seems really unlikely.
"Anti-missile technology is rarely passive, and a lot of it is violent maneuvering after some form of distraction, e.g. chaff. Somehow I'm not sure that you can sell safety to the traveling public after a violent turn to one side over stresses the airframe and it falls out of the sky, defeating the missile, but prey to it's response.
"You'd have to start with a airframe stressed for incredible loads, such as a military aircraft would be expected to cope with, and I don't know that any airline would pay for the added safety based on risk analysis of what they'd expect to deal with in normal duties. Unless the traveling public can expect shoulder launched missile at more than 25% of any destination that they would normally arrive at, and that would qualify as a war zone in which case the air line's insurance would either be increased or it'd be prevented form going there.
"Like I said at the beginning, not likely."
"The range of manpads is silly small. You would have to be within 1 mile of the end of the runway to be within the targeting envelope of an airliner taking off."
It is true that MANPADS have a very limited envelope compared to larger SAMs, but you are exaggerating here by a factor of 2 to 3 times. Even the SA-7b (one of the most common but least capable of systems known to be outside government control) has a range of 2.6 miles and a ceiling altitude of 7,500 ft, traveling at such a speed (Mach 1.4) that an airliner climbing from takeoff is practically a stationary target. The slightly newer SA-18 is less common but is also possessed by subnational groups; it has a range of 3.2 miles and a ceiling of 12,000 feet, and a speed of Mach 2.0. There are other, even more capable missiles that might be in the hands of subnational groups but there is less evidence for those.
"It seems like the best place to deal with this threat (which isn't very likely to begin with) is at the 600 or so commercial airports rather than several thousand aircraft fuselages."
Even for SA-7b, the effective engagement envelopes around the main airports of New York City are occupied by just over 10 million people. For the more capable SA-18, many "short hop" commuter flights will remain within range for the entire flight.
"Intentionally flying a radio-controlled helicopter into the intake of a jet engine is probably more likely."
The fastest RC helicopter available has a top speed of 90 knots. A 747's rotation speed (minimum speed at which it can begin to lift its nose) is 177 kts. An SA-7b Grail does 940 kts, weighs twice as much as the RC helo, and has a high explosive warhead specifically designed to cause catastrophic failure in turbine blades.
@Anonymous of January 20, 2008 10:12 PM:
> Which of course is the essence of security theatre, movie-plots, and the like.
> Oh the irony!
I'm not sure if you're misunderstanding the meaning of "strawman" here. A strawman is when you misrepresent the position of your opponent in order to argue against a weaker position. For example, constantly arguing against the necessity of MANPADS defence on aircraft inside the US, when the FAA spokesman made it quite clear that they are primarily wanted for international flights to Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East; the purpose of the small scale US installations are for reliability and maintenance trials in order to determine if the operational costs will represent a positive cost : benefit trade-off.
> The basic fact is that no plane in domestic US airspace has been shot down by a MANPADS launched SAM.
Ahem, strawman. But...
> Not even an attempt has been made.
This is not true. In the last couple of years there have been two prosecutions of persons attempting to smuggle a MANPADS missile into the USA. One was detected by the FSB in Russia; they sabotaged the missile to make it unfirable, and alerted the FBI when the smuggler left for the USA. He was arrested in New York, complete with missile. In Hong Kong, Chinese authorities arrested two Pakistani men and an American citizen, who were attempting to exchange several tonnes of drugs for a MANPADS SAM. They claimed they were acting as middle-men for Al-Qaeda.
There have also been numerous incidents of missiles being seized being smuggled into, or found concealed in, Latin American countries. In the last three years alone this includes: 1 in Nicaragua, 4 in Mexico, 5 in Peru, and 1 in El Salvador (the latter being part of plot to assassinate President Antonio.) Most of these cases are associated with drug traffickers. The Peruvian missiles were apparently destined for FARC.
> What about radar seeking missiles?
Unlike MANPADs, there is no evidence that any subnational group possesses the much larger and more powerful radar guided SAMs, nor AAMs for that matter. And unlike MANPADs, subnational groups are not actively shooting down civilian aircraft with radar guided SAMs.
> Moving into other areas, a simple GPS based cruise missile is no longer out of the question either.
It wasn't out of the question 25 years ago, either, which is why they had selective availability built in from the start of civilian transmissions. But no-one ever seems to have tried it, so the costs of SA are higher than the benefits and it has been turned off. (It might be pointed out that the DIRCM trial is specifically intended to determine the actual operational costs so that a detailed cost/benefit analysis can be performed.)
Nowadays a far greater threat is that GPS jamming (either malicious or accidental ) might be a threat to maritime or air navigation. And yes, considerable efforts are being put in place to mitigate those risks.
> The idea of crashing an airplane into a building wasn't novel on 2001-09-11 -- at least one piece of fiction was predicated on it.
Nevermind fiction, the risk was observed in a classified security conference in the late 80s. And an actual (unsuccessful) attack was made against the French in December 1994. Air France Flight 8969 was hijacked by four Islamic extremists in Algiers, and stormed by the French gendarmerie when it landed to refuel at Marseilles. Strong indications were found that the intention had been not to negotiate with the passengers' lives, but to crash the aircraft somewhere in Paris.
> What would your response to a proposal prior to that day about securing the airplanes from such a threat?
I did hear such a proposal, and I (and many others) agreed with it. Resistance to the securing of cockpit doors both then and now stems from airlines and from pilots' unions. In the case of the pilots, this is on the alleged grounds that it would be impossible to provide aid to pilots in the event of a medical emergency in the cockpit (despite the fact that on large airliners there are usually three crew in the cockpit, any one of whom could open the door.) The airlines made a variety of excuses, but their real motives were mercenary. Because they are immunised from paying for the loss of life in a fatal terrorist attack (or accidental crash, for that matter), they only need to balance (loss of airframe) x (probability of loss) vs. (cost of security measures) + (lost revenue from frightening passengers). Under this calculus almost any real security measure is a waste of money, and what they really wanted -- then as now -- is security theatre to reassure passengers and keep airline usage high. This is probably the reason why, despite all the rhetoric, the spending on air transport security in the USA is still quite literally less than the cost of providing peanuts .
> Here is one opinion on that question: "Four planes? That many people willing to die for the same cause at the same time? If any writer had turned in a story like this, the publisher would have just handed it back and said, 'No way. Not believable.'"
I'm not sure why you would think that, when PFLP terrorists conducted co-ordinated hijacks on four aircraft as long ago as 1970, and by 2001 the total number of terrorists who had so far conducted suicide attacks already ran into the hundreds.
> Observe what has happened since 2001-09-11, when the security apparatus per se hasn't really done anything to prevent a re-enactment beyond cockpit doors. But have cockpit doors done the job, or is it simply the relative difficulty, or maybe even interest in pulling it off -- even if there was no security whatsoever at the airport or in the airplane?
> If we mount DIRCM on all US-based passenger jets at high fixed cost and perpetual running costs, will the boogie-missiles be kept at bay because of them, or because the missiles never existed in the first place? If anyone knows, they aren't telling.
First: there's your strawman again. It is YOU talking about all US-based jets, not the FAA. The FAA is talking about flights to high risk areas. Second, the missiles do exist. This is not open to question, even to the wildest-eyed conspiracy theorist; they have actually been used, many times, and dozens of civilian aircraft have already been shot down. The incidence is climbing rapidly, even if we discount attacks in Iraq.
> My own view is that, within reason (e.g., cockpit doors) I think we just have to accept losses.
> We can not anticipate every last threat, or counter it.
Nor do we need to. One of the most frequent failings of IT security people in thinking about physical security, is to attribute superhuman powers to the opponent. It might be argued that this is reasonable enough in IT security, since if one genius can do the attack, then it can be scripted and done by anyone at negligible cost. In physical security, however, it is completely wrong-headed, and results in despairing of being able to do anything useful. This is nonsense, since it is evidently true from practical experience that we can do a great many useful things and keep threats contained without excessive cost.
> At best we just distract ourselves from the other, more plausible, threats sneaking in from behind. If these crazy "movie plot" scenarios, like MANPADS, were worth the effort, expense, time, and so on carrying them out, I assert they already would have been done, and as a consequence, we would be in a better position (like the Middle East or Kenya) to allocate resources against the proven threat, instead of an entirely fictional one (to date) for the US domestic airspace.
There's your strawman again. But your choice of words also suggests a strangely parochial view of the USA. These things happen in strange foreign countries, it is fantasy to imagine that something that happens in funny foreign countries could also happen in the very special US! Well no, no it is not. The only "special" property the US has in this regard is being more distant from the places these devices went missing. That suggests a time delay, not an impossibility. And they have already arrived in Mexico.
1. In an incident at Moss Landing, CA in 2001, GPS signals were completely jammed for several months throughout the entire harbour, its narrow approaches and a variable distance out to sea ranging from 1 to 3 km. Triangulation of the rogue emitter proved impossible due to the large number of reflectors in the area. The source of interference was eventually identified by switching power on and off to various facilities, and proved to be a faulty television antenna pre-amp on a yacht. In the course of this investigation, a surprising discovery was made; although there was only one source of RFI that grabbed everyone's attention by producing 100% jamming 24 hrs a day, there were also 2 others that produced partial jamming at night or in cold, foggy weather! But for the investigation of the more severe emitter, these sources would probably have been ignored, with sailors assuming a transient fault in their receivers. One of these additional jammers was soon located but the last took several more months to track down. They both proved to also be TV antennae, differently branded but using pre-amps made in the same factory as the first. The unintentional oscillators (with power outputs on the order of microwatts) were so extremely sensitive to environmental conditions, that their transmitted frequency shifted in and out of the GPS band as the case cooled or warmed with ambient temperature, or even as a person waved his hand 20 feet away.
2. Over the last 5 years it has averaged around $1.7 billion per annum, which might sound like a lot but actually works out to about 1/6 of a cent per passenger-mile. If you take a 1000 mile flight, the funds spent on your security during that flight is about $1.70.
I wonder how many old Browning 0.5-cal machine guns are still floating about? Cheaper than a fancy shoulder-launched missile, easy to operate and maintain, completely immune to expensive countermeasures, just the thing for Johnny Terrorist in his RV a couple of miles from the runway threshold.
We (UK forces) shat ourselves when PIRA got hold of some in the 80s. I wonder how many heavy guns could be rounded up, and how many terrorist cells could be infilitrated, for the price of a few theatrical gimmicks stuck to airliners' bellies?
I've been reluctant to post an idea about the anti-missile measure for commercial airliners.
I suspect it wouldn't be that tough for someone experienced with missle guidance systems to convert the IR sensor to one that tracked a laser. It mignt even be a simple as placing a filter over the existing sensor. This is a somewhat different than a conventional laser guided missile, but I don't see why a missle couldn't be modified to follow a laser shining at it.
In this scenario, the plane's anti-missile system guides the missile to the soon to be destroyed plane.
I guess in my scenario, your fake anti-missle system is safer than the real thing...
This anti-missile measure reminds me yet again that it is the rare defender who can think in the frame of reference of the attacker. You'd think we'd learn, but we don't.
Maybe the movie Charlie Wilson's War helped this movie-plot threat get a second wind.
It is fine that the government is encouraging commercial aircraft to use countermeasures to attack by infrared (heat) seeking missiles. The problem is that it is useless against antiaircraft techniques developed as far back as World War II. Some of these are economically unpractical, while others require access to hard to obtain technologies. All are within the grasp of those who would do us harm.
1. Barrage Missiles - this is simply firing a large number of unguided missiles at the aircraft to take it out. Missiles with an effective altitude of 500 feet are easy to produce, and would cost about $20 each in mass, including high explosive. Towed wire instead of high explosive could be more effective in that they are more likely to interact with the aircraft as they are a longer item for the aircraft to hit. These missiles have no guidance beyond their launch rails. The materials for them are available at hardware stores.
2. TV Guided Missiles - think of a remote controlled model plane, powered with a rocket, with a TV camera transmitting back to the controller. This could be wire, fiber optic or radio controlled. Wire and fiber optic cables need to be both very strong and light weight. Such material is both difficult to obtain and quite expensive. A radio link for guidance control and the TV link can be jammed, but spread spectrum technology would make this link difficult to jam or detect. Schematics for spread spectrum communications systems for radio armatures are publicly available. For an electronic technician familiar with spread spectrum techniques, there are many integrated circuits to design and make miniature systems. Miniature cameras are cheap.
3. Directed Blast - This is a technique that allows one to "aim" the blast wave from a high explosive charge, much like shaped charges and platter charges (today in the form of explosively formed projectiles) do. Instead of a large mass of explosive, which will also bring down an aircraft if large enough, this uses a smaller quantity of explosive formed and detonated in a way that its energy is directed toward the aircraft's flight path. If done properly, it would bring down an aircraft as it landed or took off. How many airports have roadways passing next to or across the ends of their runways? For the commercial airport 1/4 mile from me, this is all their runways. Do we block all private and commercial vehicles from coming anywhere near airports?
Note: military high explosives, such as RDX, are not that difficult to make. One needs only know proper chemistry techniques to keep from injuring one's self. In fact, RDX is safer to make and use than black powder. The ingredients are available if one knows where to look, as they are part of everyday life. Once one has RDX, it is a simple, though messy, step to making plastic explosive – kind of like making bread dough. I know, I taught my troops in the Army how it was done many years ago.
4. Fireballs - burst a tank of butane, propane or LNG then ignite it after it has mixed with air. It will explode, producing a shock wave that will disrupt the flight of an aircraft, but likely will not bring it down. The fireball, as it climbs into the aircraft's flight path, will create a tremendous amount of turbulence. The fireball itself will shut down the engines, as there is no longer any oxygen for them.
Note: both of the last two are simple to implement, but require precise timing to be effective. Until the techniques are well understood by those using it, there will be many failures. All of the above were tried back during World War II, but never widely used as they are most effective against an aircraft that is landing or taking off.
5. Lasers - It is well known that a laser pointer pen can interfere with a pilot's ability to control his aircraft. What if many laser pointers were used from multiple points on the ground? Prohibit the sale or possession of laser pointer pens? Lasers are too much a part of our everyday life to be eliminated, and it does not have to be a laser pen to affect a pilot.
6. Strobed Lasers - back in World War II, the Suez Canal was defended by search lights equipped with spinning mirrors. The German bomber pilots often lost control and crashed. A search light is difficult and expensive to obtain, but lasers are not, and are a lot smaller. The eye is also more sensitive to laser light. At night, this strobed light will illuminate the interior of the cockpit, making it difficult to read instruments. Imagine trying to fly an aircraft in the middle of a disco with strobe lights going off rapidly, causing disorientation.
7. Artillery – not the military type, but the kind that I am sitting next to. My ¼ scale black powder 12 pounder Napoleon field cannon firing a 1��? steel ball may not seem much of a threat to even a 727, think of what would happen if that miniature cannonball punched through the turbine of an aircraft’s engine during takeoff. Now take several barrels with 1��? steel balls being fired at once, like a mitrailleuse. Using hardware store pipes, homemade black powder and ball bearings, and you have a poor man’s “machinegun.��?
These are but a few of the many techniques that have been tried and successfully used to bring down aircraft. Some are more effective at this than others, some are expensive, others cheap to implement. A few are both cheap and effective. None are countered by either flares nor laser jammers.
Laser countermeasures to anti-aircraft missiles? Security Circus is right - bring on the clowns. Or is it the clowns who are running the security circus our leaders are presenting to us? There is only one way to prevent civil aircraft from being attacked – don’t let them fly.
What about that :
MANPADs are are growing menace, not just in Iraq. All kinds of
terrorists now try to acquire them and there have been hundreds of
thounsands produced. Two western airliners have been attacked so far.
This kind of weapon clearly was the decisive factor in defeating the
Soviet forces in afghanistan. Defensive measures against MANPADs are
a necessity at airports in some volatile regions in the islamic
world. I think that's a rational assessment. Having them in Europe
or America and most of Asia is probably unecessary, even though a
successful attack could change this assessment quickly.....
So fitting airliners that will serve those destinations with
defensive systems clearly is good policy, while fitting *all*
airlines probably serves only the coffers of the defense industry.
As someone who's watched the development of one of these systems (not the installed system, but a competitor), I disagree that it's entirely security theatre.
There have been a number of passenger airliners shot down with cheap shoulder-fired IR missile systems, mostly in Africa and the middle east. Recently, two people were arrested in the process of importing missiles into the US and a FedEx (I think?) MD-11 was hit in Baghdad. It looks like a movie-plot threat but we know that people are actually trying to pull it off.
So the threat is real, but that doesn't make DIRCM a good solution. The manufacturers talking up the threat and selling them at gouging prices doesn't help.
(this was originally an email to Bruce, I see I'm waaay late to the comments. Still, I think the links are new).
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.