Laser Based Counter- MANPADS / C-RAM System
Northrop Grumman is proposing a derivative of its high power chemical
laser system to be used as a ground based interceptor of man-portable
anti-aircraft missiles which could be used by terrorists trying to hit
passenger aircraft. The new system, called Skyguard will use the
high-energy chemical laser known as
THEL, designed to protect against rocket, artillery and mortar (RAM)
threats. Benefiting from significant technological advancements,
Skyguard has higher power than heritage systems and a larger beam,
making it a much more capable system, the company said.
In fact, Northrop Grumman foresee a much wider role for Skyguard - with
the system evolving into "laser-based air defense system for U.S.
government agencies and allies that require near-term defense against
short-range ballistic missiles, short- and long-range rockets, artillery
shells, mortars, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles." The
company expects a single Skyguard system will be able to defend deployed
forces, a large military installation, and/or a large civilian
population or industrial area. One Skyguard system is capable of
generating a protective shield of about 10 kilometers in diameter.
Northrop Grumman is hoping to market the civilian system to the US
homeland security sector and a military version of THEL to protect
forward military installations from enemy and insurgents rockets,
artillery and mortars attacks. The company already offered the system to
protect Israeli towns faced with repeated attacks from Gaza and Lebanon,
as well as for US forces in Iraq.
According to a report published in
Aerospace Daily, Skyguard could protect aircraft from man-portable
air defense system (MANPADS) shoulder-fired rockets out to a range of
roughly 20 kilometers (12.4 miles), while against harder RAM targets,
the effective range is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). Weather can degrade the
system but not nullify it.
According to Aerospace Daily, the cost could drop to $25 - $30 million
apiece, if the system is ordered at sufficient quantities. each shot
costs about $1,000 which represents the cost of consumable chemicals.
One concern raised about chemical lasers was the toxic gases released
during operations. According to Northrop Grumman, the system's exhaust
is not toxic, but mostly helium and steam. Therefore, the system
requires a "keep out zone" of 30 meters, smaller than conventional
rocket systems such as Stinger and Patriot. If users want to make the
system totally safe, a scrubber can be added.
October 20, 2006
Northrop Grumman announced that the US Department of Homeland Security
is funding an evaluation of Northrop Grumman's land-based, counter-MANPADS
laser system (Skyguard) with US$1.9 million. The 18 month program will
evaluate the capabilities of the system to defeat typical missile
threats to passenger. As part of the program, Northrop Grumman will
develop a detailed operational concept for using ground-based
high-energy laser systems in the civil aviation environment, perform
component-level testing and assess life-cycle costs. A formal technology
readiness level (TRL) assessment will be made of ground-based, non-DIRCM
(directional infrared countermeasures) technologies
terms of their potential application in the civil aviation environment,
the department noted, specifying that technology readiness levels of
TRL6 or TRL7 are expected in the systems it chooses for further
evaluation. Federal officials said the solutions they are seeking are
based on existing component technologies, emphasizing that the program
will not undertake the development of new elements.
A recent article published by the
Israeli online magazine Omedia provides an insight into some of the
controversy the SkyGuard system faces in Israel, primarily within the
MOD's Defense Research & Development Directorate and local industries.
Israel's DDRD traditionally favored investment in offensive, deterrent
systems and rejected most defensive systems with the exception of the
Arrow system (which also met strong opposition in Israel, primarily with
the Israel Air Force). In the article, Dr. Oded Amichai, former senior
Rafael representative, counters arguments raised against the system,
describe its advantages and reveals who is to blame for it not being in
operation in Israel today.