Cloak Of Invisibility
Armada International Compendium |June - July 2017

Protecting aircraft from Radio Frequency (RF) and infrared threats remains paramount for air forces around the world, as illustrated by the high levels of activity which has occurred in this domain over previous year.

 

Traditionally, many nations in the Asia-Pacific region are taciturn regarding their military procurements writ large, let alone air-borne electronic self protection systems per se. Exceptions to this rule include the announcement by Leonardo that the Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Udara (TNI-AU/Indonesian Air Force) is enhancing the self-protection of its BAE Systems Hawk Mk.209 fighters with the firm’s SEER radar warning receiver. According to Dave Appleby, vice president of sales for electronic warfare at Leonardo’s airborne and space systems division, this product is expected “to enter service soon” on these aircraft. The firm’s official literature states that it is available in two versions; one of which covers a bandwidth of 0.5 Gigahertz (GHz) to circa 18GHz, with the other covering two gigahertz to circa ten gigahertz.

EUROPE

Meanwhile in November 2016, Leonardo confirmed to Armada that the RAF has received BriteCloud RF decoys to develop the concepts of operation for the decoy’s use onboard the service’s Panavia Tornado-GR4 fighter. Mr. Appleby stated that the decoy: “consists of a battery-powered digital RF memory jammer in a completely self-contained unit, reduced to the size of a drinks can. The decoy is therefore small enough to be ejected from fighters in exactly the same way as a flare, allowing pilots to lure even the most up-to-date RF-guided missiles and fire control radars away from their aircraft.” Although Leonardo has demurred from providing a date as to when BriteCloud could enter frontline service onboard the TornadoGR4, it is expected that this could occur within the next two years. Leonardo stated that the advent of BriteCloud marks an important step for the service which will: be the first air force worldwide to use such a technology,” Mr. Appleby specified. He continued that the firm’s Miysis Directional Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) had secured its first sale over the past twelve months. According to the firm’s official literature, the product can equip helicopters and wide-body aircraft, providing all-aspect coverage against infrared guided missile threats, using lasers to neutralise them: “Miysis is readily exportable and the first buyer is an export customer, however, we can’t say anything further at this stage,” Mr. Appleby added.

European airborne EW efforts are also focusing on kinetic capabilities, and in late 2016, Orbital ATK was awarded a contract worth $14.7 million under the US government’s foreign military sales initiative to convert existing Raytheon AGM-88B High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM) air-to-surface weapons to Orbital ATK’s AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) configuration. Reports have noted that deliveries of 19 of these converted missiles will be completed by September 2018, and that these weapons will be used by the Aeronautica Militaire (Italian Air Force) Tornado-ECR electronic warfare aircraft. Orbital ATK told Armada, via a written statement, that the 500th example of the missile will be handed over to the US Navy in late May. Moreover, a new variant of the weapon, known as the AGM-88E AARGM-ER (Extended Range) initiative commenced in 2016 and the company added in its statement that the project aimed: “to develop hardware and software modifications to improve the AARGM’s operational capabilities, including extended range, survivability and effectiveness against complex, new and emerging threats.” The firm added that its current work in this regard will focus on designing a new rocket motor for the missile, software updates, and additional design and testing work. A technology maturation and risk reduction phase is expected to occur this year, the firm added, with test rounds being delivered to the US Navy in 2019.

US companies enjoyed additional success in Europe during 2016 with Northrop Grumman selected to provide that company’s Large AircraftInfraRed Countermeasure (LAIRCM) for installation onboard the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Bombardier Global Express-5000 turbofan transport used by dignitaries. There have been no reports as to when the installation of this system will be completed. The Luftwaffe is also enhancing the self-protection of its Tornado-ECR/IDS jets with the addition of the Saab BOZ-101 electronic warfare pod. The news of the acquisition, announced in April 2017, will see 29 pods delivered to equip these aircraft between 2017 and 2020. The BOZ-101 architecture includes a missile approach warning system and a countermeasures dispenser, with the ability to launch flares to counter infrared guided missiles downwards and sideways.

Away from Germany, countermeasures dispensers acquired by the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (Royal Netherlands Air Force) are being enhanced, following the news in March that the force will receive upgrades to its Terma PIDSU pylons outfitting its General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16A/B Fighting Falcon fighters. This will see the pods being upgraded to the PIDS+ status with the addition of a Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) and flare dispenser which can launch flares diagonally. The upgrade is reportedly to ensure that the aircraft can defeat infrared (IR) guided surface-to-air missiles. At the core of the upgrade will be the addition of an Airbus/Hensoldt AN/AAR60(V)2 MILDS-F ultraviolet MAWS. The installation of the flare dispenser will render the PIDSU pod, which was hitherto only capable of dispensing chaff to defeat surface-to-air and air-to-air RF-guided missiles, capable of defeating IR-guided missiles.

The Dutch F-16A/B aircraft have also received an enhancement to their Northrop Grumman AN/ALQ-131 electronic countermeasure pods it was reported in December 2016. The focus of the upgrade was on improving the digital receiver/exciter architecture within the pod which both receives potentially hostile RF transmissions for identification and geolocation, and provides RF jamming signals to neutralise those threats. Openly available sources state that the AN/ALQ131 family has an RF range of between two gigahertz and 20GHz, with the capability to perform simultaneous jamming using 48 different waveforms. It is thought that the RNLAF F-16A/Bs use the AN/ALQ131 Block-II variant of the ECM which was delivered to the force from 1996. Each AN/ALQ-131 system reportedly has a unit price of around $1.2 million in 2003 US dollars, with the RNLAF acquiring a total of 105 pods.

Podded EW systems have also been unveiled by Ukraine’s Radionix with the firm announcing the commencement of flight tests of its Omut-KM airborne self protection system in November 2016. Having already performed ground-based and simulated tests, the flight test regime will validate the capabilities of the Omut, according to media reports. These flight tests were performed using a Ukrainian Air Force (UAF) Sukhoi Su-25 family ground attack aircraft. The Omut architecture is offered in both a podded and internal configuration. The company has added that the Omut architecture can be installed onboard the Sukhoi Su27 fighter family. The company released no additional information as to whether the jammer will equip UAF aircraft and, if so, when deliveries of the jammer will commence and conclude. In addition, the firm has released no information regarding the pod’s performance.

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