The insurgent waits expectantly as the infidel’s Chinook lumbers into view. He will train the launcher on his target and call on his God to guide the Stinger home to kill Americans.
American infidels will die now. He pulls the trigger, but as he watches in disbelief, the missile diverts from its track straight toward the Chinook’s engine exhaust and corkscrews wildly away.
Flying escort, an Apache emerges and traces the Stinger’s smoky trail back to its launch point, then trains its 30mm chain gun on the insurgent’s position. As he attempts to run, he wonders why his missile twisted off course.
A team of American military and civilian technology experts has been working for more than a decade to defeat heat-seeking missiles. The system they have developed, now in successful deployment, uses a cumbersome abbreviation—ALQ-212/AAR-57 ATIRCM/CMWS (Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures and Common Missile Warning System), a name nearly as complicated as the system’s technology.
No Mean Task
ATIRCM/CMWS’s development has not been easy but has proved worth the effort. The system comprises a combination of capabilities defined broadly as the military’s suite of integrated infrared countermeasures. The need for IR defense has been apparent for decades. Any low-flying aircraft, but especially helicopters, routinely fly well within the lethal range of shoulder-mounted, man-portable, heat-seeking air defense systems (MANPADS). The proliferation of cheap, effective MANPADS brought the U.S. defense establishment to action in development of a more effective countermeasure system to protect American aviation crews from shoot-downs.
ATIRCM/CMWS is an integrated missile detection system combined with a multiband laser and an expendable munitions countermeasure. The system’s modular design allows tailoring to a wide variety of aircraft and permits product upgrades, reconfigurations and modifications to keep operational costs low and remain effective against emerging, more capable threats.
CMWS is a stand-alone component of the ATIRCM system. Developed by BAE Systems in Nashua, NH, CMWS provides passive missile approach warning, and cues the ICMD (Improved Countermeasure Dispenser) to fire expendables such as flares and chaff. The CMWS design uses a modular concept to allow tailoring to a variety of rotary and fixed wing aircraft.
Currently in full rate production, the CMWS program has been deployed on more than 1,000 fixed and rotary wing aircraft worldwide and has proven its performance, reliability, and suitability in combat. The system consistently has protected aircraft and saved lives while maintaining a low false alarm rate.
CMWS was fielded rapidly in 2005 to meet an urgent wartime need to counter MANPADS missiles. To counter evolving missile threats, a directable laser jammer is in design and test. Currently known as the Advanced Threat IR Countermeasure (ATIRCM) system, the new jammer will complement and enhance CMWS performance.
According to Colonel Kennedy E. Jenkins, program director, Aircraft Survivability Systems in the Army’s PEO IEW&S (Program Executive Office, Intelligence, Electronic Warfare & Sensors), ATIRCM/CMWS began its engineering and manufacturing development phase in the late 1990s as a joint, tri-service program. “The goal then was to develop and field both ATIRCM and CMWS in parallel. However, the CMWS technology matured faster than ATIRCM and it became clear that we should not delay the fielding of CMWS to Army aircraft.”
Army Goes It Alone
The Air Force and Navy withdrew from the program in 1999 while the Army continued the effort. In 2003, ATIRCM/CMWS began LRIP (low-rate initial production), and the following year, accelerated CMWS fielding was ordered for Army rotorcraft deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. CMWS began full-rate production in 2006 while ATIRCM continued LRIP as engineers made more improvements. Last year, an acquisition decision memorandum called for QRC (quick reaction capability) to install ATIRCM on specific Army helicopters operating in the combat zone.
“Today, we have a two-pronged approach to ATIRCM development,” Col. Jenkins said. “The program of record is addressing issues so ATIRCM will be adaptable to all Army rotorcraft while the QRC program is fielding current technology into Army helicopters in the fight. With ATIRCM we are balancing system power with accuracy. More powerful lasers don’t need to be as accurate because of their inherent disruptive capabilities, but they tend to weigh more—finding the right balance of capability and weight so that it can be flown on all aircraft is the issue.”
Despite its long gestation, ATIRCM/CMWS is passing the acid test of success in combat. “CMWS and the ICMD have been extremely successful. We’ve heard dozens of stories from aviators and air crews stating that the system works and is key in instilling a sense of confidence when they are flying.” Col. Jenkins noted. “Recently, one of our superb Chinook pilots, returned from Iraq, visited our program office and asked to speak with Lt. Col. Ray Pickering, our ATIRCM/CMWS program manager. Lt. Col. Pickering met the pilot, who said, “I want to thank you, Colonel. Your system saved my life and the lives of my crew.” We’ve heard similar stories, and we couldn’t be more proud of the system’s capabilities and how it’s protecting U.S. soldiers.”
“As ATIRCM takes a larger role in defense, we expect even better results throughout our entire rotary wing fleet,” said Col. Jenkins. “Our flare dispensers are excellent, but they don’t carry an unlimited number of munitions. Lasers can engage near-simultaneous multiple threats. With ATIRCM, we don’t run out of bullets.”
Protecting The Protectors
Advances in the Program of Record’s system performance have renewed the interest of other services in ATIRCM. The key is obtaining a system that is light enough to be viable for all aircraft across the services.
Jenkins believes laser technology may have an even broader application as a defensive countermeasure for military aircraft. “It’s not beyond the realm of possibility to shift the laser energy to the visible spectrum,” said Jenkins. “We could utilize this system to dazzle and temporarily incapacitate an enemy soldier about to engage our aircraft with small arms fire. In addition to defeating a heat-seeking missile, lasers could decrease the effectiveness of ground fire.”
ATIRCM/CMWS development has been difficult, but Col. Jenkins, speaking for his team, is proud of the system’s capabilities. “It’s an honor to serve with the caliber of people working on ATIRCM/CMWS, as well as the amazing folks working our radio frequency and laser countermeasures programs,” he concluded. “The dedication of these men and women is inspiring…they are obsessed with Army air crew protection and are determined to do whatever it takes to save the sons and daughters of America from MANPADs. Their talent and dedication is focused on protecting those who protect this nation…the American soldier.”
The insurgent waits expectantly as the infidel’s Chinook lumbers into view. He will train…
by patrickdurkin / May 4, 2009