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  • Laser Saves Helo In Multi-SAM Ambush
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 2:30 PM on Jan 07, 2010

    The first CH-47D – newly modified with a laser defense system has been saved during an attack by multiple infrared-guided missiles, say U.S. Army officials.

    “We had a success in a complex situation where a Chinook was engaged by multiple IR manpads [infrared man-portable anti-aircraft missiles],” says U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ray Pickering, product manager for infrared countermeasures (IRCM).

    A primary target for insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq is the U.S. Army’s CH-47D/F Chinook.  The laser is part of the Advanced Threat Infra Red Counter Measures (ATIRCM) package which is part of a layered defense for rotary-wing aircraft operating in the combat theater. Army officials won’t say where the attack occurred, but other military sources indicate it was in Iraq.

    The crowning success for any enemy offensive “would be to shoot down a helicopter,” Pickering says. “A Chinook with 30 people on board would be a global news event. If we lost a CH-47 a week for six weeks, the war would be over.” The Chinooks fly in large numbers in Afghanistan because they can operate at the altitudes required for some of the higher mountains.

    The Army has already fielded a company of 13 upgraded Chinooks in Afghanistan, plus the first few in Iraq. The rest of the Chinook fleet in Iraq and Afghanistan will be upgraded during the next year as they cycle through phased maintenance. The upgraded helicopters have already flown over 1,000 hr. in theater with the new defensive system.

    “We have a missile warning system that can identify missiles by type; we have flares to deflect IR missiles, and we have a laser-equipped ATIRCM [Advanced Threat Infrared Counter Measures] that can defeat any missile in current use,” Pickering says. However, “We know there are bigger and better missiles that could show up.”

    Other Army officials told Aviation Week that ATIRCM can defeat the Russian-built SA-16, and that “we have not seen any SA-18s in theater” although it is known that they are available on the black market.

    The demand for the heavy-lift platform ensures that it will be targeted often.

    “One of the trends that I’m seeing that keeps me awake, especially in a complex asymmetric threat environment like Afghanistan, is the use of a lot of low-tech weapons,” says Michael Maas, BAE Systems’ chief technical officer for survivability and protection solutions. “Anyone can buy a high-tech, laser rangefinder and night vision or low-light thermal vision hardware on the internet for $10,000 – and some of these insurgents have deep pockets. When they couple high-tech sensors with low-tech weapons, they can phenomenally increase their effectiveness. It’s a real challenge for us, as an industry, to deal with those threats.”

    Part of the first wave of quick reaction capabilities ordered in July, 2008 by the U.S. Army was fielding the ALQ-212(V) ATIRCM which includes IR sensors to detect enemy anti-aircraft missiles and laser-based jam heads to confuse and deflect their IR guidance.

    More precisely, ATIRCM steers a beam of jamming energy that is modulated --using the systems library of threat signatures -- specifically to disable or misdirect a specific type of enemy missile’s seeker.

    “We fielded the first aircraft in mid October, several weeks ahead of the Army's expectations,” says Tom Kirkpatrick, a BAE Systems program manager for the ATIRCM effort. “The initial request was for all deployed CH-47s to be equipped with ATIRCM, and we’re delivering.”

    So far, BAE Systems has delivered more than 70 laser jam heads and 70 multi-band lasers.

    Company officials say the fielded version of the ATIRCM followed a series of rigorous qualifications through field and flight tests, and that the ATIRCM and the Common Missile Warning System (CMWS - which uses chaff and flares) cooperate against evolving threats. ATIRCM’s multi band laser has an infrared countermeasures capability that provides laser jamming in several threat bands, which further enhances the missile warning suite.

    Tags: ar99, laser, SAMs, ambush, CH-47, Iraq, Afghanistan

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