U.S. jet missile defense project shaky

July 19, 2006 at 8:32 AM

WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has expressed doubts on the viability of a laser system to protect commercial jets from missile attacks.

The government has spent almost $100 million over the last three years examining the system adapted from one the military uses to protect craft from shoulder-fired missiles. However, the laser systems only last 300-400 hours, which would bring commercial craft out of service far too often to be viable, USA Today reported. To make economic sense, the systems would have to last at least 10 times longer, the report said.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security spokesman Christopher Kelly said it would take 18 more months before analysts can say for sure if that's possible.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., an authority on the issue in Congress, is angry with the delays.

"Any two-bit terrorist can buy a shoulder-fired missile for $5,000 and fire it tomorrow at a plane," Israel told the newspaper. "More than 750,000 of these (missiles) are proliferating around the world in the hands of 27 separate terrorist organizations, and we're still studying the complexity of the problem."

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