CIRCM bidders consider ways to dazzle US Army budgeters

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If protecting US Army helicopters from infrared-guided missile strikes is not enough, several bidders for a multi-billion-dollar contract believe the technology can be adapted for broader applications.

ITT Electronic Systems has displayed designs to adapt its solution for the common infrared countermeasure (CIRCM) programme from merely jamming missile seekers to beaming messages to friendly helicopters and dazzling the eyeballs or gunsights of enemy forces on the ground armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

It is part of a strategy to protect the CIRCM programme from budget cuts in a new climate of increasing fiscal austerity, especially for a technology - aircraft survivability equipment - that traditionally has not fared well in budget debates during peacetime.

"We're going to have to bring a lot more to the table in the long run for this programme to stay sold," Chris Carlson, director of business development for ITT Electronic Systems, said.

The army is expected to select two of the programme's current five bidders in September or October to enter a technology demonstration phase preceding full-scale development.

ITT officials acknowledge the service has not asked industry to deliver anything more than a system that can help helicopters defeat infrared-guided missiles.

And the company's approach to preserving what it considers the programme's long-term appeal in the budget debates is not uniformly shared by its competitors.

As one of the few new-start programmes funded in the current budget climate, CIRCM has attracted a diverse range of competitors.

Bidders include IRCM heavyweights Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, as well as upstarts ITT, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon as prime bidders.

Northrop, for example, is not impressed by ITT's offer to upgrade the CIRCM capability.

"For Northrop Grumman, that's pretty standard technology. Our laser systems division has been doing dazzlers for a while," Jeff Palombo, sector vice-president and general manager of its land forces division, said.

BAE, meanwhile, believes a recent "quick reaction" deployment of its long-delayed advanced threat infrared countermeasure (ATIRCM) system on Boeing CH-47 transports has satisfied any budget officials who question the army's ability to successfully deliver the CIRCM technology.

"If ATIRCM was falling on its face, I think we'd be in great jeopardy," Gerry Finnegan, BAE's director of business development, said.

Lockheed said its solution for CIRCM "can be migrated to address current and emerging threats across a variety of missions and requirements".

Raytheon was not immediately available for comment, but part of its CIRCM offering is itself based on a technology derived from another mission.

A key component of its missile-jamming system is adapted from the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.