Tragedy struck in eastern Ukraine this morning when a Boeing 777 carrying 298 people was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. We don't yet know who's responsible for this horrific act of violence, but we do know what kind of missile was used to hit the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 at 33,000 feet.
Ukrainian officials believe the weapon was a Russian-made Buk missile platform. It's typically mounted on a truck or a tracked vehicle, and it uses a radar guidance system. This isn't the first time a passenger plane has been attacked by surface-to-air missiles. In 2002, shoulder-launched rockets nearly hit an Israeli 757 in Mombassa, Kenya.
So the real question is: Why don't commercial airliners come equipped with anti-missile technology?
The simple answer is cost. Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRC) are installed on Air Force cargo planes and tankers and even Air Force One. They jam missile guidance systems like the one in the Buk. Without guidance, the rockets have next to no chance of hitting their targets. Unfortunately, they're very expensive. Here's a chilling quote from an Air Force officer soon after the Mombassa incident 12 years ago:
“That’s more than $5 million per plane,” an Air Force officer said at the time. “Once the first U.S. commercial airliner is shot down—and U.S. airlines rush to install these systems on their own planes—the price will drop to $2 million or $3 million per plane.”