07/29/2014 02:17 EDT | Updated 09/28/2014 05:59 EDT

National Defence Looking For System To Protect VIPs From Heat-Seeking Missiles


OTTAWA - The Canadian military is looking for an air defence system to protect its VIP aircraft, including the one used by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, from surface-to-air missiles.

And one of Israel's top defence contractors, Elbit Systems Ltd., has been working behind-the-scenes for months to get in on the anticipated project. The downing of Malaysian Airlines jet MH-17 may have given defence officials more urgency.

The program is meant to deliver a system that will "defeat modern, man-portable infrared missiles," according to the military's defence acquisition guide.

It's part of the National Defence acquisition guide and intended for installation on the air force's remaining C-144 Challengers as well as the existing fleet of C-150 Polaris aircraft, which includes the prime minister's Airbus.

The timeline for buying such a system was originally set for 2020 and beyond, but a government source says officials are taking a closer look at it in light of the tragedy over eastern Ukraine and last week's suspension of flights into Tel Aviv following Hamas rocket attacks near Ben Gurion International Airport.

Three commercial Israeli carriers — El Al Israel Airlines, Arkia Israeli Airlines and Israir Airlines — are all installing an Elbit system known as C-Music, which has a Hebrew name that translates to “Sky Shield.”

Recently, a senior Elbit official — speaking only on background because of the sensitivity of discussions — said they've been working through the newly established defence co-operation channels with Canada and hope to sell the advanced device to the air force.

The system — a pod that is bolted to the underside of the aircraft — detects incoming missiles with a thermal camera.

When the missile gets close enough, the system fires a laser which deflects the missile off of its trajectory and allows it explode a safe distance away.

The Israeli defence ministry, in a written statement earlier this year, described C-Music as "the most advanced system of its kind in the world," something that "will provide ultimate defence to planes.”

It is designed for both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

Both the Brazilian and Italian air forces have ordered it and Israel's transportation ministry said earlier this year that the devices would be installed on all of the country's airliners.

The missile that brought down the MH-17 over insurgent-dominated eastern Ukraine was believed to be a sophisticated radar-guided system mounted on an armoured vehicle.

C-Music would not be effective against the kind of military threat posed the Buk system, which is believed to have been supplied to rebels by Russia.

Defence experts have been sounding the alarm for the last couple of years about the proliferation of shoulder-fired weapons, some of which were looted from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's arsenal during the Arab Spring uprisings.

The Israelis, however, have been concerned about the possible threat to their jets for over a decade.

In 2002, terrorists fired shoulder-launched missiles at an Israeli Arkia Airlines passenger plane as it was taking off from Mombasa in Kenya. While the two missiles missed their target, the incident galvanized the political and military establishment to develop some kind of defence.

Israel is the only country to have mandated the technology its airlines and the aviation industry as a whole remains skeptical, citing concerns about pilot training and the enormous, added cost, which the U.S. government estimated four years ago to be around $43-billion.

Canadian military transports, such the massive C-17s and C-130J Hercules which routinely fly into unstable regions, are equipped with counter-measure devices.

But the C-150 Polaris, of which there are five, has no defensive suite.

One of the jets is permanently assigned to VIP transport, including the prime minister, the governor general and the Royal Family when they are in Canada. The others are tasked as either troop transports — or high altitude refuelling stations for CF-18s.

The Harper government recently ordered the decommissioning of two of the air force's six executive Challenger jets because of old age. At least two more are due to be retired, but the remaining pair are expected to stay in service well past 2020.

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