Countering SAMs in Iraq

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Evidence of how the US military is countering Iraq insurgent attacks on its helicopters was to be seen at the recent Quad-A show in Atlanta, Georgia. In the corner of the exhibit hall sat a Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow modified with new infrared suppressors and countermeasures designed to defeat shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles.

Instead of exhausting outwards, like the Apache's standard suppressors, the new chute-like design turns the engine efflux upwards towards the rotor. The revised suppressors prevent hot engine areas being visible from the ground, says Boeing.

Apaches being "reset" for return to combat in Iraq are being fitted with the new suppressors. These and other US military helicopters in theatre are also being fitted with the BAE Systems common missile warning system and advanced countermeasures dispenser system.

The AAR-57(V) warning system is a suite of ultraviolet sensors that detects incoming missiles, warns the crew and triggers the countermeasures system to dispense advanced flares. Both BAE and Boeing say the US Army is telling them that CMWS is successfully protecting helicopters from missiles in the hands of Iraqi insurgents.

There is concern about advanced surface-to-air missiles finding their way into Iraq, and BAE says the US Army is pushing to accelerate the glacial pace of the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures programme. ATIRCM is a laser-based directed infrared countermeasure system that jams incoming missiles.

Production ATIRCMs are operational in Iraq on fixed-wing platforms flown by a classified customer, says BAE, but the system has yet to make its way on to US Army helicopters. Northrop Grumman's rival DIRCM, meanwhile, is operational on all UK helicopters and transports in theatre as well as on some US Air Force aircraft.

BAE is expecting US Army funding to get ATIRCM ready for operational testing in 2009, plus funds to develop a next-generation high-power laser. This smaller, lower-cost multi-band laser will allow the system to be installed in smaller aircraft. BAE says it is looking at smaller jam heads allowing dual installations.