Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 23, 2006

Heritage memo proposes a national air security strategy

Filed under: Aviation Security,Homeland Defense — by Christian Beckner on March 23, 2006

Jim Carafano at the Heritage Foundation has published a memorandum this week entitled “America Needs a Security Strategy for Safer Skies” which makes the case that the United States needs an “air security strategy,” similar to the same way that HSPD-13 led to the development of the National Strategy for Maritime Security. This concept of “air security” includes but is broader than aviation security; it also encompasses airspace protection and control, and missile defense.

Carafano argues that the strategy should address five key priorities:

  • Passenger screening
  • Shoulder-fired missile (MANPAD) threats
  • Domestic air security investment
  • Theater cruise and missile defense
  • A reasonable role for the private sector

I agree strongly that it makes sense for the federal government to develop a “national strategy for air security.” And I concur with many of the points in the memorandum, in particular the need for better intelligence-sharing with the private sector in this domain, and the idea that airspace security should become the primary responsibility of the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection, instead of DOD (although I think there’s still a role for the Air Force and Navy in the actual interception of hostile aircraft.)

I also think it’s reasonable to develop a strategy for the domestic deployment of theater missile defense (TMD) systems, but I don’t think that DHS needs its own TMD capability: DOD’s TMD assets should be leveraged for the homeland defense mission. One area where I disagree is on counter-MANPAD systems. It was appropriate to develop prototype systems (as DHS has done) but I don’t think that the deployment of these systems is the best use of homeland security resources right now.

And on the topic of passenger screening, I’m not sure what Carafano means when he writes:

If 10 years from now the United States is still physically screening airline passengers, something will have gone terribly wrong. The United States should commit to becoming a global leader in developing an alternative security screening program that does not require 100 percent physical screening.

If there’s some silver bullet solution to aviation screening on the horizon, I haven’t heard about it yet. I think we need new layers of security in the system (e.g. stronger intelligence, behavior detection, more advanced detection tools) but having new layers doesn’t automatically mean that it’s safe to move away from 100% screening. I think it’s a laudable goal to find ways to move away from total screening and reduce costs, but I’m pessimistic about finding ways to do that, unless we perhaps go with Tom Friedman’s immodest proposal.

Overall though, an interesting memo that puts forward some good ideas that should be debated and considered.

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1 Comment »


Comment by William R. Cumming

March 23, 2006 @ 3:18 pm

The question remains who pays and who benefits from a competent, efficient, effective aviation security program? Today the notion that the airlines are private is a complete fiction. Without federal subsidies direct and indirect they would not be in business. What is the national interest in aviation? I estimate total subsidies since 9/11 at around $50B minimum. To conclude, the aviation security strategy should lay out the costs and benefits if possible.

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