FedEx jets may soon carry defensive weaponry. NBC News and Reuters FedEx report He asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to equip an upcoming fleet of Airbus A321-200 aircraft with an anti-missile laser system. The proposed hardware would interrupt tracking of heat-seeking missiles by directing infrared laser energy at oncoming projectiles.
The courier service pointed to “several” foreign incidents in which attackers used portable air defense systems against civil aircraft. Although there were no specific examples, NBC pointed to Iran shooting down a Ukrainian plane in January 2020 (allegedly due to mistaking the jet for a cruise missile) and a Malaysian flight shot down by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists in July 2014.
FedEx first ordered the laser system in October 2019. The FAA is open to approval, but proposed “special conditions” before the lasers could enter service. The system would need fail-safe to avoid ground activation and could not cause damage to any aircraft or people.
The concept of including countermeasures is not strictly new. Some US commercial aircraft used anti-missile systems as early as 2008, and FedEx helped test a Northrop Grumman countermeasures system around the same time. Israel’s El Al has been using anti-missile systems since 2004. FedEx’s plans would be significant, however, and rare for a courier company. It wouldn’t be surprising if more commercial aircraft followed suit, even if the risks of attacks remain relatively low.
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