Yesterday, a German air force Transall C-160 military transport was fired on while landing at Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan. The aircraft landed and no damage was found. Small arms fire is suspected.
German army helicopters (CH-53s) have also been operating in the region, and face the threats from ground fire on a regular basis.
In recent months, most of the attacks against NATO’s aircraft in Afghanistan stem from rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire. Incidents of attacks using man-portable air-defense systems (Manpads) have become rare.
But that is not to say the threat from Manpads has disappeared. And, as one military official I spoke with this week points out, all it takes is one shoot down of a heavily loaded transport or medevac helicopter, and the impact on NATO’s operations could be great.
Given the potential threat, the German army has long shown interest in fitting its helicopters with a laser-based directed infrared countermeasures system, not unlike the efforts the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have undertaken. The CH-53s have undergone a self-protection enhancement, but not received a Dircm.
The German defense ministry is now starting to wake up to the threat and decided it cannot simply wait for the indigenous development of a Dircm – a Franco-German project is underway to devise an advanced large aircraft infrared countermeasures systems for the A400M and other platforms. The ministry has therefore approached the Pentagon to buy the Northrop Grumman AAQ-24(V).
But in an eyebrow raising decision, the defense ministry is asking for the equipment not for the CH-53s or C-160s that are flying as part of combat operations on a daily basis, but is asking for the Dircms for the fleet of two A319s and four Bombardier Global 5000s. The primary mission of those aircraft is VIP transport.
There is no question that Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, as any head of government, deserves a well-protected aircraft but denying troops access to off-the-shelf available equipment in a time of war is a decision that cannot be accepted lightly.
(A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 fitted with the DoN LAIRCM system. Credit: U.S. Navy)