Rushed to combat theaters last year, laser-pointing Directed Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) protect U.S. helicopters from shoulder-launched missiles. The Army acknowledges the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures (ATIRCM) system on a Chinook defeated a multi-missile ambush soon after the quick reaction capability was fielded. The Naval Air Systems Command, meanwhile, notes DIRCM-enabled Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallions can re-enter areas of Afghanistan previously denied them by the missile threat.
Yet, while DIRCM systems have proven effective and reliable, they remain heavy, expensive add-ons to survivability suites. The Army now plans a more capable, reliable and integrated Common Infrared CounterMeasures (CIRCM) system light enough and flexible enough for all services. “This is not a joint program, but it is kind of a multi-service-interest program,” said Army Lt. Col. Raymond Pickering, product manager for infrared countermeasures at the Program Executive Office-Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEWS).
The Army was expected to release a CIRCM Request for Proposals to industry in October and award two Technology Development contracts early in 2011. Plans call for a CIRCM First Unit Equipped in 2017 and set a procurement objective of 1,076 systems to outfit Apache, Black Hawk, Chinook and follow-on Kiowa Warrior helicopters. The Navy and Air Force collaborated with the Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., to shape CIRCM requirements for their rotorcraft. The Navy and Marines especially want a missile jammer lighter than the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) on the CH-53E.
“The big driver for them is the AH-1 Zulu” (four-bladed Super Cobra), said Pickering. “That was a tough one because of the weight.”
With two laser heads for all-round protection, today’s CH-53E LAIRCM weighs 193 pounds and the Chinook ATIRCM around 160 pounds. Cable and supporting structure increase installed weight to more than 350 pounds.
Joint-service planners pegged CIRCM target weight at 85 pounds for the jamming B-kit with two turrets. The supporting A-kit is capped at 70 pounds for large rotorcraft like the Chinook and V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, or 35 pounds for smaller helicopters like the Black Hawk with less wiring. The Army has no requirement as yet for a CIRCM system on manned Guardrail or unmanned Sky Warrior fixed-wing aircraft.
Whatever the platform, CIRCM must implement a Modular Open System Approach (MOSA) to integrate jamming lasers, missile trackers and missile warning receivers. Federated Aircraft Survivability Equipment (ASE) today links single-purpose sensors and countermeasures through proprietary interfaces.
Allan Chan, chief of the Electronic Warfare Systems-Future Branch at the Army Communications Electronics, Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) explained, “Systems on helicopters are currently not integrated to give the operators the full picture. When new technology comes in, you can’t really do an insertion into the helicopter.”
CIRCM standardizes hardware and software interfaces and may adopt a new MOSA processor from the Army’s Integrated ASE program. “The idea is to allow plug-and-play function,” said Chan.
CERDEC, now moving from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to Aberdeen, Md., remains the Army technology center for radio frequency and infrared countermeasures. The CERDEC Electronic Warfare and Ground Survivability Division built a Laser Infrared Test and Evaluation (LITE) lab in early 2009 for suppliers to demonstrate CIRCM technologies in a dynamic environment. Identical facilities in New Jersey and Maryland will test competing systems in the Technology Development stage.
“This is when the R&D guys like myself say, we’ve done it in a palletized fashion,” said Chan. “The system is not hardened, but a prototype. The PM uses his money to shrink the system to fit the A-kit, then go to environmental testing.”
The original LITE lab with motion table tested the ability of CIRCM systems to take targets from missile warning receivers.
Helicopter losses to Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) drove Army Aviation to quickly field the BAE AAR-57 Common Missile Warning System (CMWS), now with five ultraviolet sensors to locate incoming missiles accurately. The Navy continues development of the Joint and Allied Threat Awareness System (JATAS) to integrate Missile Warning Receiver, Hostile Fire Indicator and Laser Warning Receiver functions. MOSA interfaces will enable CIRCM to take cues from either warning system.
“When we get CIRCM out there, we have to be backward-compatible with CMWS and forward-compatible with JATAS,” said Pickering.
According to Chan, “The new DIRCM system will be an improvement as far as threat coverage.”
MANPADS nevertheless continue to evolve. First-generation SA-7 missiles homed only on hot metal in IR bands I and II (around 1.5 to 3.0 microns). SA-14, -16, and -18 missiles seek Band IV (3 to 5 micron) emissions from helicopter exhaust plumes and other sources. The Chinese QianWei 2, license-produced in Pakistan, and the Russian SA-24, exported to Venezuela, are credited with dual-band seekers better able to ignore decoy flares.
MOSA will give CIRCM multi-band lasers to defeat evolving threats. “This system covers the most critical threats that we have,” said Pickering. “There will be increments that evolve depending on where we think the enemy is moving.”
Announced CIRCM competitors BAE Systems, ITT Corp., Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems and Raytheon Missile Systems have all fielded DIRCM systems or key components of their CIRCM solutions. MOSA gives the system integrators added flexibility.
“A modular open system architecture supports upgrades and allows competition going forward,” said Carl Smith, Northrop Grumman vice president of infrared countermeasures. “It also helps with risk — if a given OEM is having a problem with part of the solution, they can go elsewhere.” Northrop Grumman DIRCM systems have already integrated BAE and Lockheed Martin missile warning sensors, Selex Galileo and Northrop Grumman pointer-trackers, and Raytheon and Northrop Grumman lasers
The effectiveness of MANPADS countermeasures depends on the ratio of jammer signal strength to target source signature. The BAE ALQ-144 jammer, long used on most combat helicopters, is an omni directional flash lamp.
“I compare it to a Chinese lantern,” said Chan. “The energy spreads out across the whole sphere. The energy is weak. With the DIRCM, because of the laser source, the intensity of the jam-to-source ratio increases tremendously — more than a thousand times the energy on the missile front end.”
The BAE AN/ALQ-212 ATIRCM was just one part of the 1990s Suite of Integrated Infrared Countermeasures (SIRCM), including the CMWS and ALE-47 Improved Countermeasures Dispenser with multi-band flare “cocktail.” The developmental ATIRCM used a single-band laser and flash lamp in unison to maximize the probability of countermeasures, but reliability suffered primarily because of the lamp.
The ATIRCM Quick Reaction Capability (QRC), sent to war on CH-47D Chinooks in 2009, hits all the required threat bands with the laser. Reliability is conservatively around 350 hours Mean Time Between Mission-Affecting Failures. “That system is performing much better than we thought from a reliability standpoint,” said Pickering.
The BAE Boldstroke CIRCM builds on the ATIRCM QRC experience. “As the legacy of these missile-zapping systems has continued, we’ve been focused on ways to make them more compact, more reliable,” said Burt Keirstead, director of Boldstroke and CIRCM programs. “We’ve understood for years the importance of having non-proprietary common interfaces so the government has more flexibility in their subsystems. The devil’s truly in the details.”
BAE recently dedicated the Worrell/Weeks Aircrew Protection Center in Nashua, N.H., with a Jam Lab for threat exploitation and countermeasures analysis to develop advanced ASE technology.
Northrop Grumman in Rolling Meadows, Ill., evolved the AN/ALQ-24(V)25 DIRCM qualified on Marine Corps CH-53E and CH-46E helicopters from the Nemesis LAIRCM on fixed-wing C-130s and C-17s. Similar helicopter systems are flying on British Royal Air Force Merlins and were tested on Dutch AH-64D Apaches.
“We understand the rotary-wing application,” noted Smith. “The vibration environment is different; the spectrum is different. The rotary-wing environment is much hotter.”
Helicopters are also more weight-sensitive than fixed-wing platforms, and the Northrop Grumman CIRCM saves about 20 pounds per laser turret versus the system on the CH-53E. Like the CH-53E system, the proposed CIRCM uses a miniature pointer-tracker from Selex Galileo in the United Kingdom. It also benefits from the processing experience gained in the rotary-wing application. “One of the things we’re leveraging is the battle-proven algorithms, the software,” said Smith. “That’s key to have that.”
The ITT AN/ALQ-211 Suite of Integrated Radio Frequency Countermeasures (SIRFC) controls the survivability suite of the Air Force CV-22, including the AAQ-24 DIRCM on the Special Operations tiltrotor. The Clifton, N.J., electronic warfare house began integrating its own DIRCM about five years ago. “We realized we could make a system more reliable, less costly over the life cycle, lighter in weight,” said Bob Lawler, ITT business development manager for infrared countermeasures.
ITT flew its own pointer-tracker about three years ago and put a DIRCM system into low-rate initial production. It flew a production-representative system in September on a CERDEC Black Hawk at Lakehurst, N.J. The proposed CIRCM solution integrates laser and pointer-tracker through optical fibers. “It allows us to eliminate some boxes that aren’t necessary any longer. That reduces weight and improves reliability,” said Lawler.
The test system integrated a Lockheed Martin missile warning receiver with the ITT pointer-tracker and two different lasers simultaneously, one from Lockheed Martin, the other from Daylight Solutions Inc., of San Diego.
“By having Interface Control Documents and interfaces completely open and available to the customer, we are not stovepiped in our solution,” said Lawler. “That allows us to pick and choose what we think is the most effective subcomponent, and make changes without having to re-qualify the entire system.”
Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Ariz., used its version of MOSA to integrate two proven product lines in its fiber optic-based Scorpion CIRCM. The infrared seeker in production for the AIM-9X air-to-air missile is designed to detect fast-moving targets in high-G engagements and meets military reliability requirements. “A shoulder-fired missile coming at you is a pretty easy thing for that technology to see,” said Mike Booen, Raytheon vice president of Advanced Security and Directed Energy Systems.
Quantum cascade laser technology used in the lightweight Quiet Eye DIRCM micro-turret for fixed-wing aircraft covers multiple jamming bands. “What the CIRCM competition is longing for is a high-reliability jam head and a high reliability laser,” said Booen. The jam head with ATIRCM laser was flight-tested on a Black Hawk.
With MOSA, Scorpion integrates the Quiet Eye turret with different lasers, CMWS and other UV and two-color missile warning receivers. “That’s sort of the way we’ve attacked this market,” Booen said. “We don’t build the laser. We designed the Quiet Eye turret to integrate with any laser.”
Army Technology Development plans call for CIRCM flight tests in 2012. A single CIRCM Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract around mid-2013 aims at a low-rate production decision in 2015. “Everybody who is going to be in this competition is going to have an effective system,” said ITT’s Lawler. “You have to quantify how reliable; how much does it weigh; how much does it cost.”