Two laser-based directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) systems have been shortlisted for the US Department of Homeland Security's Counter-MANPADS (man-portable air defence system) anti-missile programme, alongside two systems using new lower-temperature pyrophoric flares to avoid environmental and safety hazards posed by traditional pyrotechnic flares.

BAE Systems' US arm is proposing a derivative of its ALQ-212 Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures DIRCM, just entering production for US Army helicopters. Northrop Grumman's Guardian is a derivative of its AAQ-22 Nemesis DIRCM developed for the UK and US special forces and later selected as the large aircraft infrared countermeasures (LAIRCM) system for US Air Force Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130 transports.

Although DIRCM has been identified as the most promising system for protecting airliners from shoulder-launched missiles, it is expensive. "The DHS says life-cycle costs are paramount," says Burt Keirstead, BAE's Counter-MANPADS programme manager. The six-month first phase of the programme will focus on understanding how military countermeasures technology can be operated and supported in a commercial environment.

"Although there is urgency to get systems out there, we need time to understand the requirements of the other stakeholders, including the airlines, airports and the Federal Aviation Administration," he says.

If a production decision is taken in December 2005, the US government is expected to pay for acquisition and installation of anti-missile systems, but airlines would pick up the operating costs. The DHS has set a target operating cost of no more than $500 per take-off and landing cycle, but Keirstead believes this is too high for the airlines. Northrop Grumman says its 55kg (120lb) DIRCM pod would not be a heavy cost burden, adding less than 1% to the typical cost of an 8h flight with 350 passengers.

The company's laser-based LAIRCM system, installed on US Air Force C-17s since May, is only starting to generate operating data, but is expected to need refurbishment after 3,500 flight hours. That translates into about $26.50 per flight hour, including $3-4/h in extra costs caused by the added weight and drag, says Robert De Boca, vice-president of IRCM systems. The company estimates it could equip the 300 widebody airliners that make up the US Civil Reserve Air Fleet for $1.9 million per unit, dropping to $1 million if the number of aircraft equipped rose to 1,000.

Two DIRCM proposals did not make the shortlist: Rafael's lamp-based Britening and fellow Israeli company El-Op's Music, which avoided the canoe fairing proposed by BAE and Northrop Grumman by locating the laser in the cargo bay, connected by optical fibre to a small turret that also housed the missile warning sensor.

Raytheon has proposed the Safe Flight system, which combines Elta's pulse-Doppler (PD) radar missile warning sensor with the US firm's Comet pyrophoric countermeasures dispensing system. The sensor is used in the Israeli company's FlightGuard flare-based countermeasures system, already selected by Israel to equip its airliners.

Alliant TechSystems (ATK) is part of a team that includes United Airlines and system integrator Avisys and which is proposing a system that combines pyrophroic flares with both pulse-Doppler and ultraviolet missile warning sensors to reduce false alarms. ATK will supply its AAR-47 UV missile warning sensor. Austin, Texas-based Avisys has already equipped an Airbus A340 for an international customer with a system combining Thales MWS-50 PD and LFK AAR-60 UV sensors with an ALE-47 flare dispenser.

Source: Flight International