The Vigilant Eagle system protects aircraft transiting airports from terrorist surface-to-air missiles including Manpads (Man-Portable Air-Defense System) shoulder-fired missiles, says developer Raytheon Co., Waltham, Mass.

The system aims a focused, precisely steered beam of electromagnetic energy at a missile, diverting the threat away from the targeted aircraft. Because Vigilant Eagle is ground based rather than installed on individual aircraft, it can protect all aircraft inside an airport area, and at a fraction of the cost of airborne systems in development, Raytheon claims.

Vigilant Eagle consists of three interconnected primary components: a distributed missile detect-and-track system, a command and control system, and an active electronically scanned array. The billboard-sized array of antennas links to solid-state amplifiers that generate the beam used to divert missiles.

Vigilant Eagle is said to have a far lower false-alarm rate than other systems and uses proven, mature technologies. Raytheon plans to test the system's ability to defeat Manpads at a site determined by the Dept. of Homeland Security, the first step to implementation at airports.

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