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The Department of Homeland Security Needs to Fully Adopt a Knowledge-Based Approach to Its Counter-MANPADS Development Program. GAO-04-341R, January 30.

In late 2002, terrorists fired surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli airliner departing from Mombasa, Kenya—the first time man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) had been used to attack commercial aircraft in a non-combat zone. Given concerns about the vulnerability of the commercial airline industry and the potential impact of an attack in the United States, you requested that we conduct an assessment of the federal government’s efforts to address the MANPADS threat against commercial aircraft, including its nature and extent; the Department of Defense’s monitoring of Stinger missiles exported to other countries; and U.S. bilateral and multilateral efforts to address international MANPADS proliferation. After we began work on this assessment, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took steps to initiate a 2-year system development and demonstration program for a counter-MANPADS system and awarded the initial contracts in January 2004. On December 4, 2003, we briefed your staff on our views about DHS’s approach to developing the system. This report summarizes that information and transmits the portion of the briefing related to DHS’s counter-MANPADS development effort (see encl. I). Our assessment of the other federal efforts to address the threat is ongoing, and we expect to complete our report in the spring of 2004.


Due in part to the Mombasa attack, the White House convened a task force to develop a strategy to reduce the MANPADS threat against commercial aircraft. In reviewing available technical countermeasures, the task force identified an on-board jammer (directed infrared countermeasure, or DIRCM) as the most promising technology to meet current threats while potentially satisfying operational constraints imposed by the commercial aircraft industry such as minimizing the cost to operate and maintain these systems.

The Congress directed DHS to submit a plan to develop and demonstrate a counter-MANPADS device for commercial aircraft.1 On October 3, 2003, DHS released a solicitation that outlines a 2-year, two-phased system development and demonstration program to produce prototype systems that would satisfy performance, operational, and cost constraints. In Phase I, which begins in January 2004, DHS intends to conduct preliminary design and analysis activities.

In Phase II, which begins about 6 months later, they plan to develop and test the prototypes.

The objective of the DHS program is to (1) migrate existing military countermeasure technologies to the civil aviation environment and (2) minimize the total life-cycle cost of the system, which includes development, procurement, installation, operation and support costs. The solicitation focuses primarily on the DIRCM concept, which combines a missile warning system (MWS) to detect a missile launch and a laser to jam the guidance system of the missile. DOD currently uses DIRCM technology on some of its large transport aircraft, such as the C-17.

Results in Brief

DHS faces significant challenges in adapting a military counter-MANPADS system to commercial aircraft. These challenges include establishing system requirements, maturing technology and design, and setting reliable cost estimates. For instance, DHS has to account for a wide variety of aircraft types in designing and integrating the system. Our past work on the best practices of product developers in government and industry has found that the use of a knowledge-based approach is a key factor in successfully addressing such challenges.

This approach includes the use of exit criteria or controls to ensure that sufficient knowledge has been attained at critical phases of the product development process. Based on input we provided during the course of our review, DHS updated its initial solicitation to incorporate these knowledge-based exit criteria. We think this a positive first step, and we are recommending that the Secretary of Homeland Security ensure that the knowledgebased approach is fully implemented throughout the course of its counter-MANPADS development program. DHS fully concurred.

Read Full Report [1.5 MB pdf]


1 House Report 108-76, p. 84.