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Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM)

The Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures [LAIRCM] system is an active countermeasure that defeats the threat missile guidance system by directing a high-intensity modulated laser beam into the missile seeker, explained Cappelano. In addition, the LAIRCM system automatically counters advanced IR missile systems with no action required by the crew. The pilot will simply be informed that a threat missile was detected and jammed.

According to a 1999 US Transportation Command report to Congress, the vulnerability of its large, slow-flying aircraft to the increasing shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile capability is their number one force protection concern. Consequently, high on their priority list is fielding of a large aircraft infrared countermeasures system that can counter this threat. To counter this threat, large aircraft have to put out a jamming energy that's larger than the aircraft signature - it has to present a brighter target in order to blind and confuse the missile's IR seeker. Transport aircraft are especially vulnerable because they present a slow, predictable target that can be easily "seen" and tracked by an IR missile's sensor. That means an IR missile can go after a larger aircraft with its corresponding larger engines more easily and from a longer range.

The purpose of Northrop Grumman Corporation's Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) program is to protect large aircraft from man-portable missiles. The LAIRCM system will increase crew-warning time, decrease false alarm rates and automatically counter advanced IR missile systems. The missile warning subsystem will use multiple sensors to provide full spatial coverage. The counter-measures subsystem will use lasers mounted in pointer-tracker turret assemblies. LAIRCM is an active countermeasure that defeats the threat missile guidance system by directing a high-intensity modulated laser beam into the missile seeker, explained Cappelano. In addition, the LAIRCM system automatically counters advanced IR missile systems with no action required by the crew. The pilot will simply be informed that a threat missile was detected and jammed.

A highly optimistic, straight-line projection from current technology suggests a $2 billion-$6 billion program (1,000 transports at $3 million per LAIRCM suite would yield $3 billion), but this assumes LAIRCM unit costs remain high for the next decade or two, and that the services can fund 1,000 systems.

To meet AMC's immediate needs, Phase I of the program will equip 20 A/C (12 C-17 and 8 C-130) with currently available technology as a stop-gap measure. Phase II will develop an advanced multi-spectral missile warning and laser based countermeasures system to increase the affordability and effectiveness of the system for the AMC fleet requirement. This requirement is defined in the multi-command LAIRCM ORD 314-92, validated 3 Aug 98. Dividing the program into two-phases was primarily due to cost and schedule constraints. AMC requires the first C-17 be delivered to the field NLT FY03. AMC plans to procure more systems when funding becomes available. However, initially AMC had funding for only the first twenty (20) aircraft, and did not have the available funding to support a risk reduction effort.

ASC/SMI developed the acquisition strategy for Phase I. The acquisition strategy is to contract for the procurement of Group B hardware by an integrating contractor and the integration of that hardware into a LAIRCM suite. The integrating contractor would then provide the LAIRCM Group B suite to the Group A contractor(s) for installation on the specified aircraft.

Much of the technology involved in the system, with the exception of the laser jammer, are non-developmental items that have been previously tested and are in production as part of the US Special Operations Command C-130 Directed IR Countermeasures AN/AAQ-24 Program. Northrop Grumman's AN/AAQ-24 (V) NEMESIS system is currently in use by the military in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Due to protection and commonality requirements, the LAIRCM C-130 Group A configuration and installation design shall closely match the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) C-130 modifications for the AAQ-24(V) Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) system. Based on Air Mobility Command's urgent need for this capability, the C-130 Group A development effort must be completed in an accelerated fashion, without suboptimizing CCB and test program requirements.

An initial cadre of personnel was assigned to the LAIRCM Program. This cadre is located in the Subsystems SPO (ASC/SM), Wright-Patterson AFB, OH. This Team is responsible for leading an Air Force/Industry initiative to develop and implement the acquisition strategy for large aircraft IRCM systems in the near-term. It also serves as the core group for the permanent organization with program management responsibility for the development and implementation of Group A and Group B and risk-reduction activities over the long-term.

The development and proliferation of advanced infrared guided missiles has greatly increased the threat to military and civil aircraft of attack by these low cost antiaircraft missiles. Technology is being developed to counter this threat in form of advance directed laser jammers and associated missile approach warning sensors. Air Force Research Laboratory's Large Aircraft IRCM Advanced Technology Demonstration (LAIRCM ATD) developed and matured subsystem and integrated system technologies to counter the ever growing threat from these missiles. The technology development includes advanced concepts such as Closed Loop IRCM that promises a high power laser response to and IR missile engagement with threat adaptable jamming applied to achieve a rapid seeker breaklock.

LAIRCM ATD is an OSD DDR&E Affordability Pilot Program that pushed for innovation in the design and integration approaches for advanced laser IRCM system to reduce development, production and sustainment cost. The program also supported SBIR activity that is addressing affordable missile warning technology using alternative low cost sensors and advanced motion detection algorithms. Opportunity exists for commercialization of IRCM technology for limited application to civil airliners, and VIP aircraft. Installation on US Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) should be considered to protect these aircraft when directed into higher risk areas of the world. Civilian Fleet operation might be considered for special routes where the threat might be high from terrorist or other groups in conflict. The key to affordable IRCM will be found in reducing systems complexity and use of efficient universal integration approaches.

Test experts completed live-fire testing on the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures system 08 July 2002 in White Sands, NM, putting the program on track to deliver the first laser-protected transport to Air Mobility Command by 2004. During the live fire tests, the LAIRCM system was mounted on a cable car equipped with heat sources representing a C-17 signature, which was used as a target for surface-to-air infrared-guided missiles. Live missiles were then launched against this target from inner-, mid-, and outer-ranges, across the missile's high "probability of kill" envelope. In each of these tests, the LAIRCM system was fully autonomously operated and had no prior knowledge of threat type or location. The system had to detect and declare the threat missile, then allocate the jamming assets required to defeat it.

The live-fire tests follow extensive laser tests conducted earlier in the year at the Air Force Electronic Warfare Evaluation Simulator at Fort Worth, Texas. Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures program got the green light for system low-rate initial production 22 August 2002. The production decision gave Aeronautical Systems Center officials the green light to buy the first four LAIRCM production ship sets, with an additional nine systems scheduled for purchase in 2003.

The system currently consists of five basic elements: a Control Indicator Unit (CIU), an ultraviolet Missile Warning Subsystem (UV MWS), a Fine Track Sensor (FTS) subsystem, a Countermeasures Processor (CP), and a laser jam source subsystem. The CP is the master system controller and the interface among the subsystems. The Air Force may install up to three laser jammers on each aircraft type. In 2003, the Air Force tasked the LAIRCM program to support two Quick Reaction Capability requirements to get IRCM equipment into the field as quickly as possible. The first capability installed and tested a one-jammer turret configuration (vice three on the full-up system) on the C-17. The second requirement installed a system on the MH-53M Pave Low IV helicopter gunship. LAIRCM will undergo developmental test/operational test (DT/OT) and IOT&E on the C-17 during FY04 to support the full-rate production decision.

In response to the urgent requirement stated in the LAIRCM Operational Requirements Document, the Aeronautical Systems Center developed an evolutionary strategy to yield a near-term solution for the protection of large transport type aircraft. The use of proven subsystem solutions, integrated into a LAIRCM system, is the first step in the LAIRCM Evolutionary Acquisition strategy to address the overall requirement. This first step, designated Phase 1, is to identify a near-term LAIRCM solution. The LAIRCM System Program Office, in association with Air Force Research Laboratory, conducted comprehensive market research to evaluate options available from industry as well as from government programs. Based on the market research, only four subsystems demonstrated the maturity and performance to provide a near-term solution. All or part of the selected subsystems will comprise the LAIRCM system. Four of the subsystems (CIU, FTS, CP, and UV MWS) will come directly from the Special Operations Command's (SOCOM) DIRCM program, presently in production. The final subsystem will be a Multi-Band Laser Subsystem, which has been developed by Northrop Grumman as part of its Internal Research and Development Program and has undergone considerable laboratory and field testing. The United Kingdom (UK) has installed the system on nine different aircraft types and there are plans for integration on eight additional aircraft types. SOCOM procured DIRCM systems under the UK contract. DOT&E approved the IOT&E Plan in October 2003.

Counter-MANPADS Special Program Office

On January 6, 2004 the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology division announced that teams led by BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and United Airlines have been selected for agreement negotiations. The team will be expected to develop a plan and test prototypes to help determine whether a viable technology exists that could be deployed to address the potential threat that MAN-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) pose to commercial aircraft.

Northrop Grumman claims the system would cost $1.9 million per aircraft if installed on a 300 aircraft fleet and $1 million per aircraft if installed on 1,000 aircraft. Operation and maintenance cost would be $26.50 per flight hour for 300 aircraft, about 60 cents per passenger. This would have a less than one percent impact on the cost of a transoceanic flight. For a wider deployment, the cost would drop to below $13 per flight hour, or less than 30 cents per passenger. Northrop Grumman is basing its installation on the single-turret LAIRCM configuration now in use on Boeing's [BA] C-17 aircraft. The C-17 configuration is a forerunner to a conformal pod, or canoe, it would install under the fuselange of a commercial aircraft. With some acceleration, the system could be ready for deployment in as little as 28 months. This assumes nine months to get FAA certification and the remaining time for installation and testing.

Next Generation Missile Warning Subsystem (NexGen MWS)

Phase II of the LAIRCM program will incorporate technology improvements, through evolutionary acquisition spiral developments, to increase the affordability and effectiveness of the system for AMC. One of the Phase II improvements is the Next Generation (NexGen) Missile Warning Subsystem (MWS). Phase I and Phase II requirements are defined in the multi-command LAIRCM ORD 314-92, validated 3 Aug 98.

The Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) Program is in the process of developing the acquisition strategy for the Next Generation Missile Warning Subsystem (NexGen MWS) System Development and Demonstration acquisition phase. The NexGen MWS program is a combined effort between the U.S. Special Operations Command Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) Joint Program Office and the U.S. Air Force Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) Program Office (ASC/GRI)

The NexGen MWS project provides a missile warning upgrade for both the DIRCM and LAIRCM programs. The acquisition strategy being considered is to conduct a System Development and Demonstration (SDD) Phase with up to two contractors. At the completion of SDD, the program would conduct a full and open competition to select a single contractor for the Production and Deployment Phase.

The next generation system is in the research and development phase. It will use advanced technology for the protection of large aircraft, with a closed-loop infrared countermeasures (CLIRCM) capability. CLIRCM will provide aircraft self protection from IR missiles at about half of the cost of the initial open-loop LAIRCM system and will enable the system to assess the characteristics of an incoming missile and defeat its targeting system.

A Closed-Loop IRCM would analyze incoming missiles, determine their type, then return a custom jam code sequence that would cause the missile to break lock and move sharply away from the target aircraft, allowing engagement of another target after only 3-4 seconds. This would surpass current open-loop systems, which confuse missiles with random false targets or IR energy, making the missile wobble in flight but not necessarily break lock. The missile can reacquire the target if the jam head moves to another missile.

The CLIRCM technology has been under development at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, OH, for nearly three decades and has been moved to the Air Force Research Laboratory (Dayton, OH) Laser IRCM Flyout Experiment (LIFE) program. Past experimentation with critical components that were tested in an at-range static environment at AFRL-Dayton demonstrated significant promise in the CLIRCM technology to defeat all types of IR missiles. In fact, the US Navy borrowed the technology to demonstrate the defeat of advanced surrogate IR imaging and line scanning sensors. The closed loop system can rapidly identify and defeat the enemy missile.

The Air Force conducted highly successful field testing of the LIFE system in December 2000 at the White Sands Missile Range. These tests proved that the CLIRCM technology provides the system improvements that the Air Force had hoped. The laser-based CLIRCM techniques and technology offer a tremendous performance improvement and cost savings over the current laser-based open loop system being procured for the LAIRCM program.

With evolving threats of IR surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and air-to-air missiles (AAM), as defined in the Multi-Command LAIRCM Operational Requirements Document (ORD) for advanced IRCM protection of large aircraft, the Air Force needs to focus on fielding a laser-based CLIRCM system. This system will ensure that the men and women of the armed services are protected from lethal IR SAM and AAM threats. The LAIRCM Phase 2 system, employing laser CLIRCM technology, could equip a Small Scale Contingency (SSC) of 79 aircraft (C-17, C-130, KC-135).




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