Protecting helicopters from kinetic threats – the challenge

Sitting duck, easy target, bull’s-eye. The same idea with many names and one unifying fact – helicopters have become easy prey for any soldier with a vintage anti-tank rocket .

While fixed-wing aircraft, tanks and armoured personnel carriers (APCs) are being defended by active and reactive systems, the helicopter is in most cases “naked”.

The Israeli air force (IAF) faced this problem in the wars in Lebanon and Gaza. These resulted in efforts to develop an efficient defensive system – but it is not simple, to put it mildly. The efforts continue, but most of them are classified.

Recently Rafael has unveiled some of the work it has done to develop an active protection system for helicopters. According to the company, a recent ground test proved that the proposed solution can become a very efficient protection system for helicopters.

Dubbed “Flicker”, the system works similar to the company’s Trophy system – developed to defend tanks and APCs  from rockets and shells. This system is operational on the Israeli defence forces’ (IDF) Merkava Mk4 main battle tank.

The Trophy creates a hemispheric protected zone around the vehicle where incoming threats are intercepted and defeated. When a threat is detected, identified and verified the system launches the classified interceptor and it deflects and destabilises the rocket or shell so that it does not hit its target.

While the IAF’s helicopters are using electronic warfare systems against missiles, there is a need to protect them against weapons like RPGs. These have downed many helicopters in Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Unlike the Trophy, “Flicker” is designed to launch a special projectile that will defeat the incoming threat.

Rafael intends to use integral aircraft sensors to save weight.

“Flicker” will use a special interceptor warhead. In a recent test the warhead proved that its shreds caused minor hits on the ground target depicting an helicopter. But the more important result? “Flicker’s” interceptor hit the warhead of the RPG and exploded it.

The effort now is to downsize the system’s building blocks and pack them in a way that will be

applicable for installation on a helicopter.

How long will it be before the system can be installed on a helicopter? The people involved are not saying.

One fact is clear – the effort to protect helicopters from kinetic threats is gaining momentum.

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