Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems have submitted competing proposals for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of an effort to improve US Army helicopter defenses against guided missiles.

The companies are in the running to provide army rotorcraft with a common infrared countermeasure (CIRCM) system. CIRCM is envisioned as a laser-based aircraft protection suite to counter threats like man-portable air-defense (MANPAD) missiles, which have proliferated and become more capable in recent years. It will be lightweight, low-cost and modular to suit the army’s various helicopters.

BAE announced the submission of its proposal on 17 November.

“The submission of our CIRCM proposal is the latest offering in our more than 40 years of experience with infrared countermeasures, delivering critical aviation survivability equipment to our armed forces,” Bill Staib, director of threat management solutions at BAE Systems, says in a statement. “We are leveraging the company’s extensive expertise to submit a proposal for a next-generation aircraft survivability solution, which would protect U.S. military aircraft and troops from existing and evolving infrared-guided threats.”

Army helicopters currently are equipped with BAE’s common missile warning system (CMWS) that detects, identifies and declares incoming threats to pilots and crew. CIRCM is design o work seamlessly with CMWS and a dispenser for flares. Some guided missiles are not confused by flares so CIRCM uses lasers to blind their infrared guided (IR) seekers.

BAE’s CIRCM offering and the countermeasures dispenser receive signals from the existing CMWS and automatically determine and deploy appropriate countermeasures.

Northrop confirmed its submission on 18 November but declined to comment for this article. The company’s website describes its CIRCM offering as “designed specifically to protect rotary wing and medium fixed wing aircraft from IR missiles”. It uses a compact pointer/tracker, commercial off-the-shelf processor and quantum cascade laser technology, the company says.

“Our CIRCM offering is built on open architecture to work with existing hardware, simplify upgrades, and keep lifecycle costs low.”

Several companies in 2012 were awarded contracts to participate in the programme’s technology demonstration phase, from which Northrop and BAE emerged as EMD competitors. Both have delivered initial units supported by lab and flight tests. The army plans to award an EMD contract early next year that will last for 26 months and include delivery of 21 CIRCM systems.