FedEx Asks FAA to Let It Install Anti-Missile Lasers on Its Cargo Planes

Home Technology FedEx Asks FAA to Let It Install Anti-Missile Lasers on Its Cargo Planes
FedEx Asks FAA to Let It Install Anti-Missile Lasers on Its Cargo Planes

With the right military equipment, a single person can target a plane from three miles away using a heat-seeking missile. While such a nightmare is a rare occurrence, FedEx has applied to the FAA seeking approval to install a laser-based, anti-missile defense system on its cargo planes as an added safety measure.


The basics of how heat-seeking missiles work is mostly self-explanatory. They target and track a source of heat—such as the hot air coming out of a jet’s engine—and automatically make in-flight course adjustments so the missile reaches its target without any input from the weapon’s operator. They’ve been popularized in action movies, but the technology is far from infallible.

Military planes carry flares that can be remotely ignited and ejected by a pilot to throw off a heat-seeking missile’s targeting system with an alternate heat source, while the plane itself performs evasive maneuvers in an attempt to fool the incoming projectile. Those countermeasures are less effective for larger aircraft, however, with larger heat signatures as a result of multiple jet engines under each wing, and considerably less maneuverability than a fighter jet. An alternative solution is the use of a device that fires an infrared laser directly at an incoming missile in an attempt to disrupt its ability to track the aircraft’s heat signature. It’s not entirely unlike someone struggling to catch a baseball with the sun in their eyes, but with the sun actively tracking and targeting the person wearing the glove.

FedEx’s request to the Federal Aviation Administration, filed on Jan. 4, didn’t come completely out of left field, however. In 2008, the company worked with Northrop Grumman to test its anti-missile laser-based defense systems on 12 of the shipping company’s cargo planes for over a year. At the time, Northrop Grumman announced that its “system is ready to be deployed on civilian aircraft,” although no commercial orders had been placed at the time, according to a company spokesperson. That may have changed, however.