Daily Breeze

April 03, 2003

Boxer seeks funds to help airlines thwart attacks from missiles

By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON — Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Wednesday that she would try to secure $30 million in a wartime spending bill to jumpstart an effort to equip passenger airliners with anti-missile technology.

The move also has the backing of a key Republican in the House, aviation subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla. He called the threat to airlines from terrorists wielding shoulder-fired missiles “one of the biggest challenges we face.”

Boxer and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said they would introduce an amendment to the spending bill to fund research, development and flight testing of an anti-missile system. The money would go to the Department of Homeland Security as part of the nearly $80 billion in additional spending Congress is considering for this year to pay for the war in Iraq and domestic counter-terrorism measures.

“We have the ability to defeat shoulder-fired missiles with technology that is now being employed on military aircraft,” Boxer said. “We know these systems work.”

The money would be a down payment toward a broader program Boxer has advocated that would require commercial passenger jets to be equipped with the systems by the end of 2003.

The total cost of installing them on existing jets has been estimated at $7 billion to $10 billion.

Boxer and other lawmakers say the systems they have in mind can detect a missile launch and jam the missile’s guidance system to throw it off course. The $30 million they are seeking “will give us time to get the best system before this is mandated,” Boxer said.

Concerns about terrorists using lightweight, portable missiles to shoot down an airliner have mounted since suspected al-Qaida terrorists fired two Russian-made missiles at an Israeli jetliner as it took off in Kenya last November. The missiles missed the plane, which some officials believe was equipped with anti-missile technology.

National Guard troops were recently deployed around Los Angeles International Airport to prevent such an attack there. Federal officials are expected to order security improvements at other airports following a recent study of the threat.

Mica said he was initially skeptical of the danger posed by shoulder-fired missiles but changed his mind after a recent congressional hearing on the subject.

“Since that hearing, I have lost some sleep and have great concerns. I don’t want a year from now people to say, ‘Why didn’t we do something about this? We knew about it,’ ” Mica said, indicating that House Republican leaders would back the anti-missile funding in the supplemental spending bill.