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Thirteen years ago terrorists fired a shoulder mounted missile at an Israeli passenger jet taking off from Mombasa in Kenya on its way back to Israel. Fortunately they missed, but the incident triggered a prolonged debate as to how best to defend Israeli airliners from future such attacks.
After years of procrastination and bureaucratic turf battles within the Israeli government, including anguished argument over just who should pay for such a defence system, three years ago project development began in earnest.
Indeed the delay could be said to have had one happy corollary, in that what has now been produced is several generations ahead of the best technology available just a few years ago.
Finally, it all came good therefore, as yesterday, Israel’s Ministry of Defense announced that the new SkyShield system of missile detection, and disablement, had completed operational tests and was certified for commercial use.
Brigadier General Eitan Eshel, R&D Director at the Ministry said, “SkyShield has been validated under the most complex and sophisticated testing conditions ever conducted in Israel and is now ready to protect Israeli airlines.”
Developed by Haifa based defence industry manufacturer Elbit Systems Ltd., SkyShield is a laser based system that deploys a version of Elbit systems’ multi-spectral infrared countermeasure, C-MUSIC. It is deployable to counter threats from man-deployable surface to air missile systems.
The technology uses advanced laser technology and thermal imaging to deflect incoming threats by means of jamming their guidance system, usually well before the pilot of the plane may even be aware a threat is on its way.
SkyShield is the Israeli government’s belated response to a failed November 2002 attack in Mombasa, Kenya. In that event, terrorists targeted an Israeli charter flight with Russian made SA-7 missiles that only just missed the plane and narrowly avoided killing the 261 passengers and crew on the plane.
The project was eventually funded by Israel’s Transportation Ministry, and managed by the Ministry of Defence in conjunction with Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority.
When asked why it took so long to reach this milestone, only in 2014, Eshel said, “It took seven years or so to take a decision and another three years of actual development.”
In Israel we do indeed have miracles; only seven years to take a decision? While the capital cost of installing the new systems on all the many airplanes out there operated by El Al, and its affiliates, will now not be cheap, since it is laser based and soli-state there are no expensive projectiles to pay for afterwards, and operating costs should be very low.
Let’s leave the last word for Butzi Machlis, CEO of Elbit Systems, and the man who ultimately got the job done, “SkyShield is the product of complex development and rigorous testing whose capabilities are unrivaled on the global market, ” adding “Hundreds of engineers worked on this program to optimize technologies and ensure its adaptation to the civilian environment.”