Northrop Grumman proposes high-energy ground laser to defend commercial aircraft

By John McHale

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. - Northrop Grumman Corp. proposed a ground-based, high-energy laser system called Skyguard as part of a layered airport defense to protect commercial jetliners from terrorists firing shoulder-fired missiles.

The layered defense proposal from Northrop Grumman Space Technology in Redondo Beach, Calif., includes the jamming laser onboard jetliners, as well as the high-energy ground laser that can shoot down missile threats known as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs).

The company submitted its proposal to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, Counter-MANPADs System Program Office, which is conducting a program to evaluate and demonstrate emerging technologies in defeating the MANPAD threats to commercial aviation.

“Northrop Grumman is developing a range of approaches to provide a layered defense for airport security,” says Alexis Livanos, president of Northrop Grumman’s Space Technology sector. Livanos says Northrop Grumman is suited to this application based on its aircraft-based Directional Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) system, “which the Department of Homeland Security is currently evaluating, in addition to the ground-based, high-energy laser system we proposed.”

Northrop Grumman engineers have proposed the Skyguard high-energy laser system to protect commercial aircraft against Counter-MANPADS threats. (Artwork courtesy of Northrop Grumman)
Click here to enlarge image

In the near term, DIRCM can be installed on the most vulnerable aircraft, company officials say. As the threat of attack continues to increase and new, more capable types of threat systems are introduced, however, Northrop Grumman experts say a layered defense can substantially help mitigate the danger to commercial aviation.

Skyguard uses a high-energy laser to destroy a wide range of anti-aircraft threats in the airport region, even with very short launch ranges, says Mike McVey, vice president of Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman. He says that Skyguard technology is the only proven and tested non-DIRCM solution and is available in less than two years once a contract is received at approximately $30 million for each system. The initial system will cost approximately $150 million.

Skyguard’s capabilities will be based on Northrop Grumman technology demonstrated at the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) testbed at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Northrop Grumman developed the THEL test bed for the U.S. Army and the Israel Ministry of Defense.

The proposed Skyguard system has speed-of-light operation, extreme precision, proven lethality, and operational safety, McVey says. He notes that THEL has shot down dozens of rockets in flight since 2000, including 122-millimeter Katyusha rockets, short-range ballistic missiles, artillery, and several calibers of mortars.

Compatible with a range of packaging options, the Skyguard laser system would be placed at or near an airport to detect, track, and destroy a variety of threats. This capability would handle infrared seeker systems, and also is effective against command-guided missiles and other threats known to be in growing terrorist inventories, McVey adds.

Before the Counter-MANPADS proposal Northrop Grumman officials also announced a Skyguard proposal for the U.S. military. The proposed military system would provide near-term defense against short-range ballistic missiles, short- and long-range rockets, artillery shells, mortars, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise missiles.

Like earlier Northrop Grumman systems, Skyguard is a multimission, soldier-operated, compact and transportable laser weapon system designed for field deployment and operations. One Skyguard system can defend deployed forces, a large military installation, and/or a large civilian population or industrial area under a protective shield about six miles wide

“The THEL testbed has demonstrated unequivocally that lasers can engage and destroy rocket, artillery, and mortar threats in flight,” McVey says. “This testbed has been remarkably successful. To date, it has shot down dozens of live threats, including long- and short-range rockets, mortars, and artillery projectiles, in very realistic attack scenarios, and under simulated operational conditions such as surprise attacks and mixed threats.”

Like the THEL testbed, Skyguard is a modular and flexible system that will support future spiral developments and can accommodate improved laser and beam-control technologies as they become available.

Skyguard will be approximately one- quarter the size of THEL and be more powerful and more efficient, a Northrop Grumman spokesperson says. The greater efficiency will come from a more efficient fuel magazine enabling more shots fired per magazine, he adds.

While Skyguard will not be mobile by the Army’s definition, it can be moved by truck, but is semistationary and off the truck during operation, the spokesman says. It is moved in three standard 20-by-8-foot containers, he adds.

Under the Department of Defense’s Technology Readiness Level, Skyguard is at level 6, with level 9 representing technology that is ready to be fielded, the spokesman says.

The Department of Homeland Security stated that the approaches it will evaluate in this procurement are limited to ground-based systems and aircraft-borne non-DIRCM systems. These will involve alternative approaches employing emerging technologies that may have the potential for defeating MANPADs in a layered defense environment.

Congress has funded the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assess alternative approaches to the current onboard DIRCM system demonstration currently under way. DH S officials will soon be awarding the next stage of the Counter-MANPADS contract, Northrop Grumman’s spokesman says.

Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

Custom and OEM Camera Design

We provide custom designs for both modifications to existing systems and development of new produ...

Latching Micro-D Connectors

Omnetics high reliability Micro-D connectors are available with Quick Latch System. For applicati...

Nano-D Bi-Lobes® Connectors Dual Row Horizontal SMT (Type AA)

Horizontal SMT Bi-Lobe® nanos offer an extremely low profile package that is well suited to pick ...

Nano-D BiLobe® Connectors -(COTS)

Sizes are 9, 15, 21, 25, 31, 37 , 51 & 65 pin, at .025 Mil. Pitch(Currently Available), mating pi...

Hybrid Micro-D Connectors

Omnetics high reliability Micro-D connectors are available withmixed power/signal contact layouts...

Micro-D Connectors

Highly rugged and compact designs in shell styles from 9 to 51 contacts. The Micro-D connectors i...

Omnetics Nano-D Bi-Lobe® Latching Connectors

Bi-Lobe® connectors utilize rugged and reliable flex pin contact system. Spaced on 25 mil (.64mm)...

XTend7103 | COM Express® Carrier for COM Express® Type 10 Mezzanine Modules

The XTend7103 is a COM Express® carrier card designed to provide a low-cost and compact platform ...

XPedite7575 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI Module

The XPedite7575 is a high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the 5th genera...

XPort6173 | 3U VPX Carrier for Two 2.5 in. Solid-State Drives (SSDs)

The XPort6173 supports two, standard, 2.5 in. Solid-State Drives (SSDs) in a single 0.8 in. or 1....

Related Companies

Southwest Antennas

Designs and manufactures high-performance RF and Microwave antennas and accessories designed for today’s communicatio...

Interface Displays & Controls Inc

Certified ISO-9001/AS9100, veteran-owned, small business. Interface specializes in designing, reverse-engineering and...

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions (CWDS) is a long established techno...

Omnetics Connector Corp

Omnetics Connector Corporation – Micro and Nano Connectors and Interconnect Systems for Military & Aerospa...

United Electronic Industries Inc

UEI is a leader in the PC/Ethernet data acquisition and control, Data Logger/Recorder and Programmable Automation Con...

GE Aviation Systems

Designs and manufactures high reliability microelectronics for aerospace and military applications. Thick film hybrid...

Cobham AvComm (formerly Aeroflex Test Solutions)

Is a global leader in avionics, communications, and synthetic test, monitoring, and control for commercial, governmen...

Astronics Ballard Technology

Manufactures avionics databus interfaces, embedded computers, and software for aerospace, military and commercial use...

Fabritech Inc

Fabritech was established in 1986 and specializes in the fabrication of EMI, RFI, and thermal shielded products made ...

KAMAKA Electronic Bauelemente Vertriebs GmbH

One of the leading Hi-Rel suppliers in Central Europe for more than 23 years. The quality of our products and the tec...


The Intel Xeon-D processor and its role in high-performance embedded computing (HPEC)

The rugged Intel Xeon-D server-class multicore microprocessor is set to revolutionize high-performance embedded computing. By itself, the processor will bring unprecedented power to embedded computing applic...

Harsh Environment Protection for Advanced Electronics and Components

This webinar will offer an opportunity to learn more about ultra-thin Parylene conformal coatings – how they are applied, applications they protect today, and the properties and benefits they offer, includin...

Press Releases


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has received a contract from Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to supply its small form factor ...

Innovative Integration Announces the FMC-Servo

Camarillo, CA June 19, 2015, Innovative Integration, a trusted supplier of signal processing and data acquisition hardware and software solutions, today announced the FMC-S...


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has further enhanced its innovative VRD1 high definition (HD) video management system (VMS) w...

All Access Sponsors

Mil & Aero Magazine

August 2015
Volume 26, Issue 8

Download Our Apps




Follow Us On...


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles