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Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the question of whether to install countermeasure systems to protect commercial airliners against shoulder-fired missiles has been vigorously debated among decisionmakers in the United States and abroad. This paper examines the capabilities and costs of onboard technologies to divert an attacking missile. Given the significant uncertainties in the cost of countermeasures and their effectiveness in reducing the overall vulnerability to catastrophic airliner damage, a decision to install them should be postponed, and concurrent development efforts focused on reducing these uncertainties should proceed as rapidly as possible. The current research, development, test, and evaluation activities are a prudent step toward reducing the significant cost uncertainties involved and minimizing the delay of program implementation once a go-ahead decision is reached. Any federal policy to protect against shoulder-fired missiles should not be restricted to countermeasures development but should pursue a multilayered approach-including examining various technologies, working with other governments to slow the proliferation of missile technology, and integrating countermeasures into the overall aviation safety, security, and law enforcement system.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    The Threat: A Clear and Present Danger?

  • Chapter Three

    Potential Economic Welfare Impact from an Attack

  • Chapter Four

    Strategic Considerations

  • Chapter Five

    Policy Solutions and Operational Issues

  • Chapter Six

    Countermeasure Systems

  • Chapter Seven


  • Chapter Eight

    Summary and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Estimating Consumer Surplus Loss

  • Appendix B

    Congressional Bills

The research described in this report was supported through provisions for independent research and development in RAND's contracts for the operation of Department of Defense (DoD) federally funded research and development centers: RAND Project AIR FORCE (sponsored by the U.S. Air Force), the RAND Arroyo Center (sponsored by the U.S. Army), and the RAND National Defense Research Institute (sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the unified commands, and the defense agencies). The research itself was conducted within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment (ISE), a unit of the RAND Corporation. The mission of ISE is to improve the development, operation, use, and protection of society's essential built and natural assets; and to enhance the related social assets of safety and security of individuals in transit and in their workplaces and communities.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Occasional paper series. RAND occasional papers may include an informed perspective on a timely policy issue, a discussion of new research methodologies, essays, a paper presented at a conference, or a summary of work in progress. All RAND occasional papers undergo rigorous peer review to help ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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