USA — Army improving helicopter protective measures

WASHINGTON (Army News Ser­vice, Aug. 19, 2010) — The Army is now craft­ing an inte­grat­ed approach to air­craft sur­viv­abil­i­ty that com­bines input from mul­ti­ple on-board sen­sors and uses that infor­ma­tion to detect, track and defeat incom­ing ene­my fire.

Spc. Kevin Welsh pro­vides secu­ri­ty before board­ing a CH-47 Chi­nook heli­copter after com­plet­ing a mis­sion in Chak val­ley in the War­dak province of Afghanistan on Aug. 3, 2010. Welsh is assigned to Delta Com­pa­ny, 1st Bat­tal­ion, 503rd Infantry Reg­i­ment, 173rd Air­borne Brigade Com­bat Team.
Pho­to cred­it Sgt. Rus­sell Gilchrest
Click to enlarge

By com­bin­ing input from a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent sur­viv­abil­i­ty sys­tems now on-board rotary air­craft into a sin­gle sys­tem and dis­play screen, the Army can stream­line threat infor­ma­tion deliv­ery and at the same time reduce the size, weight and pow­er require­ments for its air­craft, said Col. John Leaphart, project man­ag­er for air­craft sur­viv­abil­i­ty equip­ment.

“Right now we have mul­ti­ple prod­uct lines — three or four dif­fer­ent sys­tems that do dif­fer­ent things,” said Leaphart. “We need to move toward a more inte­grat­ed approach, which in the future means a suite of sen­sors and a suite of coun­ter­mea­sures that are con­trolled by a com­mon proces­sor that runs all of them in a holis­tic fash­ion.”

Leaphart said such a sys­tem would save devel­op­ment and pro­cure­ment dol­lars. But more impor­tant­ly, he said, a com­bined sys­tem would weigh less than mul­ti­ple sys­tems, which reduced air­craft weight. Such a sys­tem would also con­sume less pow­er on the air­craft.

The Army is now work­ing on com­put­er algo­rithms able to com­bine input from a range of dif­fer­ent air­craft tech­nolo­gies includ­ing CMWS and var­i­ous now-in-devel­op­ment tech­nolo­gies, such as the Hos­tile Fire Detec­tion Sys­tem and the Com­mon Infrared Coun­ter­mea­sure sys­tem.

The CIRCM sys­tem is an improved, lighter-weight ver­sion of Advanced Threat Infrared Coun­ter­mea­sures — a high-tech laser jam­mer that is able to thwart guid­ed-mis­sile attacks on heli­copters by using an infrared sen­sor designed to track an approach­ing mis­sile. The sys­tem fires a multi­band heat laser to inter­cept the mis­sile and throw it off course, Leaphart explained.

“Right now pilots are look­ing at mul­ti­ple dis­plays and we need to get to a com­mon dis­play,” he said. “We are work­ing on wrap­ping the acqui­si­tion strat­e­gy around this so that we achieve a grad­ual migra­tion toward a more inte­grat­ed approach.”

A key exam­ple of this move toward inte­gra­tion is a new effort called the Hos­tile Fire Detec­tion Sys­tem. The HFDS com­bines ultra­vi­o­let and acoustic sen­so­ry input to thwart small arms fire.

“One of the big things we are fac­ing right now in the­ater is small arms fire, so we are look­ing at devel­op­ing this HFDS. We are get­ting ready to pro­duce a quick reac­tion capa­bil­i­ty that involves a piece of soft­ware that will go into the proces­sor for CMWS and give it the abil­i­ty to detect trac­er fire and oth­er threats,” Leaphart said.

HFDS works off of the UV sen­sor in the CMWS sys­tems and adds an algo­rithm into the process which enables it to dif­fer­en­ti­ate trac­er fire from a mis­sile launch.

“This is bring­ing a new capa­bil­i­ty into an exist­ing sys­tem which makes that sys­tem more effec­tive against a broad­er spec­trum of threats,” he explained.

The next step is to con­nect the UV sen­sor to an acoustic sen­sor so as to bet­ter detect mul­ti­ple sources of incom­ing fire.

The CMWS has already proven itself in com­bat.

“The CMWS does reduce the imme­di­ate reac­tion work­load of respond­ing to a mis­sile threat,” said Chief War­rant Offi­cer Pat Shores, Avi­a­tion Branch Tac­ti­cal Oper­a­tions Offi­cer; Direc­torate of Train­ing and Doc­trine, U.S. Army Avi­a­tion Cen­ter of Excel­lence. “This also enables the crew to react faster to destroy­ing the threat on the ground.”

Shores said he thinks America’s ene­mies find out too late just how effec­tive sys­tem like CMWS actu­al­ly are.

“Shoot­ing a mis­sile at Army air­craft is a lose-lose sit­u­a­tion for them,” Shores said. “They have an extreme­ly low prob­a­bil­i­ty of a hit, and due to the CMWS and sim­i­lar sys­tems, they also have a high prob­a­bil­i­ty being detect­ed and destroyed after the shot.”

The CIRCM pro­gram, planned as a mul­ti-ser­vice sur­viv­abil­i­ty solu­tion for rotary-wing air­craft, aims to improve on and cap­ture lessons learned from the now-field­ed ATIRCM tech­nol­o­gy. CIRCM is prepar­ing to enter a com­pet­i­tive devel­op­ment pro­to­typ­ing phase, Leaphart said.

A for­mal request for pro­pos­al for CIRCM is planned for release by the fourth quar­ter of this year.

“The acqui­si­tion strat­e­gy is we will do a tech-devel­op­ment phase with mul­ti­ple com­pa­nies in com­pe­ti­tion with each oth­er. They will devel­op two pro­to­types that will be eval­u­at­ed dur­ing this phase. For engi­neer­ing devel­op­ment, a mar­ket sur­vey will be con­duct­ed and if war­rant­ed, a lim­it­ed com­pe­ti­tion between these two ven­dors will occur for EMD with a man­u­fac­tur­ing phase for one of those,” Leaphart said.

ATIRCM is field­ed now on heli­copters over Iraq and Afghanistan. CIRCM, its replace­ment, low­ers the weight of the sys­tem and there­fore brings with it the oppor­tu­ni­ty to deploy this kind of laser counter-mea­sure across a wider por­tion of the fleet.

“This will give the rotary wing fleet the capa­bil­i­ty to defeat IR mis­siles that they don’t have right now. CIRCM has a laser emit­ter as part of the tur­ret — guid­ed by an IR point­er. This points the laser on the IR seek­er of the inbound mis­sile. Shoot­ing the laser into the IR seek­er essen­tial­ly blinds the mis­sile,” Leaphart explained.

Test­ing and devel­op­ment of CIRCM will take place at a vari­ety of loca­tions, to include Red­stone Arse­nal, Ala., and Eglin AFB, Fla. Pro­duc­tion is slat­ed to begin by 2015.

(Kris Osborn writes for the Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of the Army (Acqui­si­tion, Logis­tics and Tech­nol­o­gy.))

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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