By Stephen Handelman
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(PopSci.com) -- Shoulder-fired missiles, referred to in military-speak as MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) are showing up on the black market more and more these days and U.S. officials are becoming increasingly concerned about their risk to commercial aircraft.
As a result the Department of Homeland Security is nearly doubling its spending on counter-measure research to $110 million this year.
One particularly notable technology under consideration is a laser called Skyguard that can make mincemeat out of a missile in a matter of seconds, according to its developer, defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which adapted the laser from a larger militarized version.
Packed inside a unit the size of three school buses and stationed close to the runways, Skyguard is essentially a giant laser gun with brains. It focuses a powerful energy beam with pinpoint accuracy on a missile, heating up the explosives inside to make them detonate before reaching their target.
Of course, it comes with a hefty price tag. Each unit costs about $150 million, although large-scale production could bring the price down to as low as $30 million. Northrop says its system could be deployed at major U.S. airports by 2008.
How it works:
The Skyguard laser system could take out mortar rounds, artillery shells and rockets.
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