Israel has developed an airborne system designed to divert missiles fired at civilian passenger airplanes.
The system created by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Israel Military Industries (IMI), which has already been presented to the Civil Aviation Authority and is awaiting certification by the Israel Airports Authority, is slated for use by the national carrier, El Al, and Arkia.
The development of the system was accelerated in the wake of the attempt in November last year to bring down an Israeli passenger jet taking off from Mombasa, Kenya, with two shoulder-launched missiles.
Since the attempted terror strike, senior defense establishment units have held a number of discussions on ways to protect Israeli civilian aircraft.
At one recent discussion involving Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the heads of Mossad, Shin Bet security service, the defense establishment, and the Israel Police, the participants stressed that the Mombasa incident should be treated as an act of terror that succeeded. This is despite the fact that the missiles did not hit the airplane. As a result, there has been an urgency to develop a defense system for civilian aircraft.
The operational demands of the system, as laid out by the government and the Civil Aviation Authority, were to provide an answer to the threat of missile attacks during an aircraft's takeoff and landing.
In addition, the decoy system was required to possess a range of hundreds of meters.
Ashdod's Elta Electronics Industries, a subsidiary of IAI and a world leader in the development of radar systems, manufactured sensors that are sensitive to the heat emitted from the engine of a shoulder-launched missile and are fitted on the outer casting of an airplane.
IMI, for its part, specialized in the development of decoys - explosive-like devices that are fitted on the exterior of the aircraft, under the wing.
When the sensor picks up and identifies the engine of a shoulder-launched missile, it transmits an instruction for the decoy to detach itself from the aircraft and fly off in the opposite direction of the passenger jet's flight path.
The missile is thus diverted from its original path and targets the decoy.
Till now, such decoy systems have been developed only to provide protection for fighter aircraft. IMI developed the Tactical Air-Launched Decoy (TALD) system, which is used by the Israel Air Force and the fighter planes of the U.S. Navy currently in operation in Iraq.
The primary innovation in the new system is that it provides protection for civilian aircraft during takeoffs and landings, considered to be a flight's most vulnerable stages.
Haaretz has learned that the new system is already being used in two executive 707 Boeings owned by two heads of state in Asia and Africa.
Industry sources say the Israeli system is the only available one of its kind at present.
The sources added that once the system is purchased by the Israeli airlines, foreign carriers will be quick to follow.