Israeli missile-defense system for passenger planes passes live-fire test

Missiles successfully deflected by ‘Sky Shield’ in critical test for revolutionary laser-deflector system

El Al plane at Ben-Gurion Airport 2012 (Serge Attal/Flash90)
El Al plane at Ben-Gurion Airport 2012 (Serge Attal/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry said it successfully completed final testing on a system that protects commercial planes from missile attacks.

Eitan Eshel, head of research and development at the ministry, said Wednesday that testing of the “Sky Shield” system was “100 percent successful.”

Wednesday’s tests involved firing live missiles, which were all successfully deflected.

The system integrates laser technology with a thermal camera to protect aircraft against missiles fired from the ground. It deflects missiles fired at aircraft by changing their direction.

Eshel did not say when the system, under development for about a decade, would become operational.

Israel’s Channel 2 news said the threat to civilian airliners worldwide was on the rise, and reported that European authorities had thwarted eight efforts to launch shoulder-fired missiles at airplanes in the past year alone.

Islamic terrorists fired two surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli charter plane shortly after takeoff in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002. The missiles missed their target but spurred an Israeli effort to improve countermeasures.

Reports of tests in the past two years have noted that the “Sky Shield” system proved capable of deflecting single and multiple missiles away from the target plane.

The need for the system was deemed particularly acute because of ongoing tension between Israel and Iran, which funds and arms Islamists to Israel’s south in Gaza, and Hezbollah to the country’s north, in Lebanon.

A Channel 2 TV report in 2012 said the defense systems cost $1 million per plane and would first be installed on airlines, including the national carrier El Al, flying what are defined as “sensitive routes.”

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