Airliner Shootdown: The Last Resort
The U.S. Air Force has spent millions of dollars training to shoot down a hijacked commercial airliner with missiles as a last resort to prevent it from being deliberately flown into a ground target.
There is no question of the accuracy of an air force missile fired at a jet. It is 100%, and will absolutely succeed in destroying an unarmed airliner and killing all aboard.
But the ability of the military to place fighters in proximity to deliver the fatal blow depends entirely on how much time it has to respond after the hijacking becomes known and before the aircraft hits a target.
- In training drills in the Washington, DC area some time after the 9/11 attacks, the Air Force was unable to engage a “hostile” commercial airliner in time to prevent it from hitting a target in the Washington area when it departed a local airport.
Even if Air Force fighters are successful in downing a U.S. airliner, it is clearly an almost unthinkable solution to preventing a terrorist attack. The result would be the same as if a terrorist had detonated a bomb onboard. That fact, may make it difficult to make the critical decision to take such action in the time needed before the attack succeeds.
The concurrent political, economic and social repercussions are unimaginable. The prospect of the United States Military deliberately killing hundreds of innocent civilians would be unprecedented in history. If the hostile airliner is owned by an international carrier, diplomatic relations between countries would be rocked by such an act.
In the event of an Air Force pilot using a missile to shoot down a civilian airliner, it will be difficult to explain why his counterpart in the airliner was obstructed from having even a pistol to prevent the attack in the first place.
APSA judges the reliability of an airliner shootdown in preventing a terror attack at 85%; at the expense of hundreds of American lives.
Recommendation: Improve other aspects of airline security to dramatically reduce the chances a military jet will ever need to target a civilian airliner.