The IAI / Elta’s B-737 in its maiden flight as a multi-mission aircraft (Photo: IAI)Israel is making a big splash at the 2003 Paris Air Show which is being held this week. A subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries, Elta, is displaying the world’s first aircraft equipped with a Flight Guard Self-Protection System, designed to protect passenger and freighter aircraft against missile attack.

The system is being shown as part of the equipment on board Elta’s Multi-Mission B737 aircraft. The system’s final development stages are due to be completed soon, as are trials for American FAA certification, making it the world’s first Aircraft Self-protection System for commercial aircraft.

The “Flight Guard” is a civilian version of its ELM 2160 radar-based missile warning system that is in service with 10 customers on 15 types of aircraft, primarily airlifters and helicopters, Pnina Joseph, director of marketing for Elta, told Aviation Week. It has already been credited with saving several aircraft from attacks by shoulder-fired missiles. If an incoming missile is detected, the system triggers a flare dispenser. The radar missile warner has higher reliability than infrared systems, reducing false-alarm rates from one every 2 hours. of flight time to “one per year,” said a company official.

Flight Guard comprises two main components: Elta’s autonomous radar system, which detects the launch of surface-to-air missiles, and IAI’s countermeasures dispensing system, which jams and diverts heat-seeking missiles. The Elta radar is based on similar systems that protect military aircraft.

“The system is designed for the maximum safety required for operation in a civilian environment,” Israel Livnat, general manager of Elta Systems told Jane’s Defense Weekly. “The flares are intended to burn for a very short time to avoid any damage even if discharged in low altitude.”

The FAA has voiced concern about systems that might dispense flares over populated areas, and Livnat concedes there is a “psychological barrier in certifying a system that releases burning objects around civil airfields. We started a dialogue with the US Federal Aviation Administration and hope to conclude certification by the end of the year.” IAI estimates the system’s unit cost to be less than $1 million.

Last month the B737 performed a successful maiden flight with all systems operating. Potential customers will be able to observe the aircraft and be briefed on the systems capabilities onboard the aircraft at the Air Show. The aircraft is capable of performing the following missions: Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), Image Intelligence (IMINT), Tactical Electronic Support, Maritime Patrol, and Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and Control.

Last week Elbit Systems’ wholly-owned subsidiary El-Op finalized a critical stage in the development of its MUSIC (Multi-Spectral Infrared Countermeasure) system, also designed to protect civilian aircraft from shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.

One of the main differences between the systems is that El-Op’s MUSIC uses state-of-the-art laser technology and not flares. Without the need for pilot intervention, MUSIC emits a narrow laser beam towards the incoming missile, jamming its guidance system, which causes it to stray off course from the plane.

MUSIC and Flight Guard were in the planning stages well before the attempted destruction in November of an Arkia jet over Mombassa, Kenya, by terrorists using two shoulder-launched missiles. Since 9/11, many airlines and governments have been interested in installation of such protective measures.

Israel is well-represented in other categories of the Paris Air Show as well. There were reports that due to a reduced U.S. presence at the show this year, the Israeli participation would also be diminished, but Israeli defense officials and executives told Middle East Newsline that the Defense Ministry plans to maintain a large presence at the air show.

“I don’t think that the Israeli industries will reduce its presence because of that [U.S. decision],” Elbit Systems president Joseph Ackerman said. Officials said the Israeli pavilion will be comparable to that of 2001, during the last exhibition in France. Elbit Systems, IAI, Israel Military Industries and Rafael, Israel Armament Development Authority, will have large displays.

The Israeli indoor and outdoor exhibits will focus on homeland security systems, a major concern for governments, all over the world since 9/11. Elta Systems has developed a wide range of Homeland Security products, designed for the protection of ground and coastal borders and international border crossings, such as: command and control centers, various radar systems, and advanced optronic sensors manufactured by IAI’s Tamam Division.

IAI’s MLM Division will present for the first time at the Paris Air Show, its new capabilities in the area of Command & Control systems. An Air Command & Control system providing operational and logistical management tools for air forces will be demonstrated. This system includes two components:

1. Air situation systems linked to aerial control aircraft, for integrating information from a number of radars simultaneously.

2. Operational data management system for air forces, which acts as a database for operational, logistics and intelligence information.

According to Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the Paris Air Show is a prime showcase to display Israeli accomplishments.

“Israel’s pavilion at the Paris Air Show is an opportunity to showcase the tremendous accomplishments of our defense industries and to present some of the most advanced technologies available in the global war against terror.”

The Paris Air Show is, in this respect, a showcase for some of these proven technologies and capabilities.