Remarks by Congressman Joseph R. Pitts
Protecting Commercial Aircraft from Terrorist Attacks
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
I want to thank the Association of Old Crows for sponsoring this series of briefings on "Protecting Commercial Aircraft from Terrorist Attacks."
I am the founder and co-chair of the Electronic Warfare Working Group, and it is our goal to educate Members of Congress, their staff, and the defense community at-large about threats to our national security in the area of electronic warfare and capabilities that are necessary to counter these threats.
The issue that we are discussing this morning is of immense importance. September 11 showed that terrorists have the desire and ability to attack our homeland and kill innocent civilians.
We know today that they are trying to attack us. One way is by shooting down one or more of our civilian aircraft with man-portable, shoulder-fired missiles, or ManPADs.
Today, we have an excellent series of panels to discuss this threat and learn what we are doing to counter it.
Since you will be hearing from experts from the Homeland Security, Defense Department, and the airline industry, I am going to let them talk about the technical aspects of the threat and our response, but I do want to say a few words in general about this important issue.
Someone once said that the goal of terrorists is to "kill a few, hurt many, and scare everyone."
Certainly 9/11 changed that theory slightly with the number of deaths, but the principle behind that statement, I believe, is still true.
Terrorists want to defeat America - not just by killing us, but also by destroying our economy and our symbols. They want to scare us into submission. This was clearly a major component, if not the primary goal of 9/11.
Today, our economy is strong again and we are a nation united against the terrorist, but they will try to test our resolve.
With this said, why is there a ManPAD threat against our commercial aircraft?
First, the proliferation of ManPADs is alarming. Depending on the type of ManPAD you want, you can purchase one on the black market for as little as $5,000.
They are also easy to use. It takes very little time to teach a person to use one. And, they can be easily assembled, taken apart, and transported, so that once it is fired, the terrorist can run and blend into society just like the sniper that terrorized this region for weeks a couple years ago.
Second, our commercial airline industry is a symbol of our thriving economy and our freedom.
Americans travel all over the world - tourism is an important form of diplomacy. And, people from countries can travel to America to visit our country, see our way of life or to start a new life by escaping war, dictatorship, and oppression.
Third, our commercial aircraft are simply vulnerable. They are easy targets.
Finally, our airport security, while improving, still has gaping holes - especially when it comes to security outside of the airport perimeter.
How do we counter this present threat?
First, I want to commend my colleague, Mr. Mica, for his bill, H.R. 4056, which seeks a comprehensive approach to this issue.
As you will hear today, the Department of Homeland Security is currently studying three leading proposals for a countermeasure system. They are looking at both flare and laser-based options.
I believe there is room for both in our response. Both have strengths and counter each other's weaknesses.
In deciding how to move forward we must be sure to take into account a number of questions:
What are the life-cycle costs for each option?
How many flight hours can a system go before maintenance is required?
What is the process for equipping aircraft with countermeasures?
It is not realistic to equip every commercial aircraft in our fleet at the same time. We must identify and prioritize those aircraft that are more susceptible to attack.
Further, can the countermeasure system be readily upgraded to meet emerging advanced ManPADs, such as laser-beam riders and command line-of-sight models?
These systems are the next generation of ManPADs, and it is only a matter of time before they are in the hands of terrorists, unless we stop their proliferation.
Even if we employ an effective, cost-efficient solution, we are still at risk.
Even if a terrorist fires a missile at an aircraft and the countermeasure system effectively defeats the threat, significant damage is still done.
The terrorists have succeeded.
Who is going to want to fly in an aircraft after that? The terrorists will have succeeded in scaring everyone. The toll on our economy, not just our commercial airline industry, could be devastating.
We must make sure they don't even fire. The countermeasure system should be the last line of defense, not the first. Therefore, we must stop the proliferation of ManPADs
There are other recommendations that I believe warrant consideration.
First, we can better camouflage certain aircraft. I understand that flashy paint on a plane attracts attention and business, but it can also attract the wrong type of attention. Especially with older ManPADs, if you can't see the plane, you can't shoot at it.
Second, we can work to find a way to reduce the IR signature of commercial aircraft, so that the missile can't lock on or the countermeasure system is more effective.
And, finally, we need better airport security. ManPADs have a target detection range of about 6 miles and an engagement range of about 4 miles. This means that we have to improve security outside the perimeter of an airport.
We must identify points around airports where terrorist could operate - points where they can launch missiles, then run and blend in.
I was recently told a story about a European airport that instituted a neighborhood watch program.
The security personnel at the airport identified points of vulnerability and went out into the neighborhoods to educate the surrounding community about what to look for.
If a person sees anything suspicion they are to call a private number, not a general emergency number like 9-1-1, to register what they observed.
On one occasion, an elderly lady who was part of the neighborhood watch called in to airport security about two men she saw getting out of a van and going into the woods with what looked a fishing pole.
The problem? There's no place to fish around there.
Law enforcement was sent out, and sure enough, they arrested two men with an SA-7.
This story proves that the threat is real. We must institute a similar strategy here to protect our airports and ensure that terrorist don't even have a chance to fire on our commercial aircraft.
The bottom line is this: We must have a multi-layered response - a menu of options - to counter this threat. There is no silver bullet.
If we go for the quick solution and throw money at the problem, we play into the enemy's hand. We must not be careless.
I look forward to working with the AOC, government agencies, and the defense and airline agencies on this issue. If you would like more information regarding the EW Working Group, please visit our website at www.house.gov/pitts or contact my staff, Ken Miller, in my office.
Again, I thank the AOC for sponsoring these briefings this morning.