FedEx made a surprising request to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2019 and that was only recently revealed. The freight company intended to install a laser anti-missile system as a countermeasure for heat-guided attacks.
So far there is nothing new after all in 2007 FeDex had installed the Guardian, a type of equipment manufactured by Northrop Grumman, in 10 of its MD-10 trijets for testing. But the company’s proposal involved the A321-200, an aircraft it does not operate.
The concern about possible attacks is explained by the existence of portable heat-guided systems launched from the ground. “In recent years, in several incidents abroad, civilian aircraft were fired upon by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS)”, reads the text sent to the DOT.
Known as Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM), the equipment is installed at the bottom of the fuselage and works by directing laser beams towards the missiles in order to ‘blind’ them or divert their course.
The installation of defense systems on civil aircraft has been going on for a long time. The Israeli carrier El Al was the first to install such equipment but based on flares, like the one used on fighter jets, which is quite expensive.
FedEx also drew attention for relating the order to the A321, an aircraft that, in addition to not being in its fleet, is not so widely used in the air cargo sector.
Only recently have converted variants supported by Airbus begun to enter service, suggesting that FedEx even considered ordering the A321 freighter at some point.