Northrop Grumman says a recent series of tests demonstrates the reliability of a helicopter-based anti-missile system newly developed for US Army helicopters.
The company was among at least four teams that participated in recent reliability and characterisation tests for the counter infrared countermeasures requirement, which presents an opportunity to equip thousands of military helicopters with anti-missile systems.
One of the army's key concerns in the competition is the risk posed to reliability caused by shrinking multi-band jammers designed for fixed-wing aircraft into packages suitable for helicopters.
Northrop's system, which includes a 4.4kg (9.8lb) laser, accumulated more than 655h of observed testing, says Jack Pledger, director of business development for infrared countermeasures. Although it is a pre-production prototype, its system demonstrated reliability levels normally associated with mature technology, he says.
Pledger cited the long experience of Northrop, which has teamed with Finmeccanica's Selex subsidiary since the late 1980s to deliver infrared countermeasures technology for fixed-wing and helicopter platforms.
"Because of the production capacity we've built up over the years we're ready to go," Pledger says. "We've got the capacity to deliver on their schedule and we've got the design that's been tested."
The Northrop/Selex system is based on a single jam-head, while some of the competitors have chosen a distributed aperture approach.
Northrop considered that design, but rejected it due to concerns about the maturity of fibre-optic technology, which is required to transmit signals between the distributed apertures, Pledger says.
"A distributed aperture requires you to use a fibre-optic coupling for the laser and that technology has proven out to be not mature enough to be reliable yet," he says.
"We've looked at fibre optics. It holds a great deal of promise for the future. But there's still a few years of development required to make it work."