The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has filed a proposal with the U.S. Department of Transportation to equip FedEx aircraft with infrared countermeasures whose purpose would be to protect against heat-seeking missiles, according to The Drive.
“This action proposes special conditions for the Airbus Model A321-200 airplane. This airplane, as modified by FedEx Express (FedEx), will have a novel or unusual design feature when compared to the state of technology envisioned in the airworthiness standards for transport category airplanes. This design feature is a system that emits infrared laser energy outside the aircraft as a countermeasure against heat-seeking missiles,” states the proposal.
The FAA says these measures are necessary since the last few years have seen several incidents abroad where civilian aircraft were fired upon by man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). Since 1970, the International Civil Aviation Organization has counted 42 attacks involving MANPADS systems on civilian aircraft. The FAA goes on to say that current airworthiness regulations for commercial aircraft are devoid of safety standards.
The request is not new for the FAA or FedEx. Infrared countermeasures for FedEx aircraft have already been proposed before and the firm has been testing anti-missile countermeasures aboard its aircraft as far back as 2006.
Back then, it equipped a McDonnell Douglas MD-10 with Northrop Grumman’s pod-based Guardian DIRCM system. The move was part of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Counter-MANPADS Program which focused on anti-missile systems for commercial aircraft, testing two infrared countermeasure systems.
The systems tested were the Northrop Grumman Guardian and the BAE Systems JetEye. After a study that involved 16,000 hours of flight testing, the DHS declared that both systems “met effectiveness requirements.” In 2019, the same study also evaluated the feasibility of using high-altitude long-endurance drones to provide standoff protection against MANPADS. This project called CHLOE was however found not to meet requirements and never took off.