When it comes to airline security, El Al is known for taking absolutely zero chances. And understandably so – operating in one of the world’s most geopolitically volatile environments, the Israeli airline knows the importance of staying ahead of the curve. This importance is more apparent than ever, especially amid Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas and repeated attempted rocket attacks on Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.
There’s a common misconception that El Al’s commercial airliners are armed with actual missiles – and that simply isn’t true. However, these aircraft do have onboard missile defense systems, which are designed to thwart heat-seeking missiles. In the past, these systems primarily used flares for this purpose, while newer installations have increasingly adopted the sophisticated C-MUSIC system, created by Elbit Systems of Haifa, Israel.
What’s the Threat?
Heat-seeking, anti-aircraft missiles, or MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems), pose a grave danger to commercial aviation and VIP aircraft. These highly transportable and extremely lethal missiles have proliferated across the region in recent years, finding their way into the hands of terrorists and hostile non-state organizations. The consequences of a missile attack against an aircraft can often be dire, resulting in the loss of the aircraft and, tragically, the passengers on board.
A Brief History
El Al was an early pioneer in the development of onboard missile defense systems, commencing their foray into this technological realm back in the early 2000s under the moniker ‘Flight Guard.’ This initial system employed flares to confound heat-seeking missiles, a strategy that sparked controversy. Aviation authorities in some countries took issue with the utilization of flares, deeming it a potential fire hazard, and leading to the airline being banned from landing in some European countries like Switzerland. Such concerns ultimately catalyzed the development of an even more sophisticated and modern solution.
C-MUSIC, short for Commercial-Multi Spectral Infrared Countermeasure, offers a powerful Directed Infra-Red Counter Measure (DIRCM) solution against MANPADS, drawing on years of proven experience in military settings to protect civilian aircraft. This advanced system has been installed on a wide range of commercial and civilian aircraft, including those transporting heads of state. Notably, it is certified by Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority, laser-based, and fully autonomous, requiring no action from the crew during engagement. In other words, it provides large jet aircraft with comprehensive protection against advanced heat-seeking ground-to-air missiles.
How C-MUSIC Works
C-MUSIC is neatly contained within a single, fuselage-mounted pod, employing sophisticated missile detection and jamming techniques to deliver superior aircraft protection. It has undergone extensive operational testing under the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s watchful eye. Additionally, it’s in use on various aircraft worldwide, including those serving high-profile passengers. The low-profile pod’s versatility enables swift detachment from one aircraft and reattachment to another, a crucial feature for fleets.
The system uses an onboard FLIR infrared camera to detect incoming missiles, and fires back with infrared of its own to jam the missile’s target acquisition capabilities and (intentionally) lead it astray. C-MUSIC has gained the Government of Israel’s trust and is tasked with protecting all Israeli commercial airliners. It’s certified and installed on several Boeing and Airbus aircraft, with negligible impact on the aircraft’s performance. Through a multitude of flight tests and live fire tests, C-MUSIC has amassed over 35,000 operational hours across various aircraft platforms, proving its effectiveness under a wide range of operational conditions.
Per FlightAware data at time of writing, it seems most of the flights still going in and out of Tel Aviv are on El Al metal. While most non-Israeli carriers have suspended all service to Ben Gurion, save for some limited repatriation flights, it seems to be largely business as usual for El Al – a testament to the airline’s advanced technology and know-how when it comes to operating in a volatile environment.
C-MUSIC is more than just another addition to El Al’s security arsenal; it’s a testament to the airline’s unwavering commitment to passenger safety. Amid the outbreak of war in the Middle East, it’s reassuring to know that innovations like C-MUSIC are helping to keep the skies a safer place for everyone. Whether you’re an aviation enthusiast or just someone who values security in the skies, C-MUSIC is an advancement worth celebrating.
Featured image courtesy Elbit Systems