Boeing has selected the BAE Systems ALE-55 fibre-optic towed decoy to equip the US Special Operations Forces (SOF) Lockheed Martin MC/AC-130s. The deal is a major boost for the system, as it comes hard on the heels of the US Air Force cancelling a programme to fit the defensive system to its Rockwell B-1B bombers.

Neither prime contractor Boeing nor BAE Systems confirm the selection of the high-power decoy, but it is understood that the decision in favour of the ALE-55 will be formally announced by the end of this month. The ALE-55 was in competition with the Raytheon FO-50, a proposed fibre-optic upgrade of the ALE-50.

Boeing will fit the reel-out/reel-in decoy to the USAF SOF MC-130 Combat Talon I/IIs penetrator transports and AC-130 Spectre gunships. The MC/AC-130s will be fitted with two underwing pods, each housing four decoys, which will connect to the ITT ALQ-172 high-band jammer fitted on all aircraft, as well as ALQ-172(V)3 low-band version equipping only the Talon IIs.

BAE is also competing to fit its rival ALQ-196 low-band jammer to remaining Spectres and Talon Is. The SOF is expected eventually to replace the ALQ-172 with a newer system such as the ITT ALQ-211 suite of integrated radio frequency countermeasures or the BAE/ITT ALQ-214 techniques generator.

The ALQ-214, coupled with the ALE-55 and Lockheed Martin ALR-56M radar warning receiver, formed the core of the B-1B's Defensive System Upgrade Programme (DSUP). The USAF claims the DSUP would have had to be rebaselined, adding $175 million cost and a 17-month delay to the programme (Flight International, 31 December-6 January).

BAE says the problem started with the removal of $150 million from the DSUP programme's original budget, although problems discovered in early 2002 in deploying the decoy from the B-1B had been fixed. BAE says acquisition cost growth was the result of the fleet being cut from 93 to 60, and USAF depots increasing the cost per retrofit from $500,000 to $2.7 million.

With the cancellation of DSUP, the US Navy is threatened with higher non-recurring costs fitting the ALE-55/ALQ-214 integrated defensive electronic countermeasures suite to its Boeing F/A-18E/F fighter unless additional customers such as the SOF buy the system. The system could also be demonstrated on the Boeing C-17 and B-52.


Source: Flight International