Israeli-made Airplane Protection System Passes NATO Test

Elbit Systems' SkyShield defense system for countering shoulder-launched missiles has already been installed on Israeli planes.

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Image of an Airbus aircraft as seen in the control station that operates the SkyShield airplane defense system. The mechanism was developed by Israel's Haifa-based Elbit Systems.
Image of an Airbus as seen in the control station operating Elbit's SkyShield airplane defense system.Credit: Courtesy of Elbit Systems

The Haifa-based defense electronics firm Elbit Systems reports that a system it designed to protect aircraft from shoulder-launched missiles has successfully passed a test by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The test was carried out on an Airbus C-295 plane.

A specialized working group of NATO, the collective defense organization of 28 member countries in Europe and North America, has been looking at a number of different technologies that provide protection for aircraft, including Elbit’s SkyShield system, the company reports. As part of that effort, the test of that system was carried out in cooperation with airplane manufacturer, Airbus, and the Israeli Defense Ministry’s research and development authority.

Elbit hopes that the success of the trial will lead member countries to purchase the SkyShield. The C-295 is used by the military in many of the countries belonging to NATO, as well as in others including Spain, Poland and Brazil.

At an expense of hundreds of millions of shekels, the SkyShield system, which employs lasers to intercept the shoulder-launched missiles, has also been deployed in Israel; it is installed on the underbody of aircraft. The system’s four sensors detect incoming missiles and then activate the lasers.

The SkyShield is designed for use on civilian passenger planes, transport planes, and in refueling and intelligence aircraft employed by the military. After the Israeli defense establishment completed its own tests of the system in February, it began to be used on Israeli civilian aircraft.

The development of SkyShield was prompted by a 2002 incident in Mombasa, Kenya, in which two SA-7 missiles were fired at an Israeli Arkia Airlines plane. The development process took a relatively long time, due to the choice of technology used to intercept the incoming missiles, and to strict safety requirements for allowing landing of aircraft fitted with the system at airports around the world.

Last year’s downing by a missile of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine prompted new consideration of airplane anti-missile defense systems. The Canadian army is reportedly considering installing such mechanisms, possibly the SkyShield.