Northrop Grumman will install directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) on a widebody airliner operated by an unnamed US major carrier within 18 months as part of a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contract.

Man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) are a real and present threat to commercial airliners, says Jim Ackleson, director of programme management at Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems. Commercial airliners have a 300 square mile zone of susceptibility to MANPADS which means that defences at the end of runways alone are not enough and an aircraft has to have its own protection. Laser-based DIRCM is the only practical option for protecting aircraft, says Ackleson.

Northrop Grumman was one of three companies selected to investigate protection systems for commercial airliners by the DHS earlier this year. A BAE Systems-led team is also proposing a DIRCM system, while a United Airlines-led team is investigating a decoy-based system. Northrop Grumman has not disclosed its team members.

Northrop Grumman is adapting its AN/AAQ-24(V) and smaller Guardian systems for commercial aircraft applications. Ackleson says its DIRCM systems have already been proven on multiple defence aircraft, with over 200 installations on more than 20 aircraft types. The AN/AAQ-24(V) has undergone more than 1,000h of flight testing and over 100 missile live-fire engagements, including operations in Afghanistan.

For commercial aircraft installations Northrop Grumman proposes to house the system in a single mounting pod, or ‘canoe', and install it on the underside of the fuselage. The DIRCM equipment would weigh 120lb (55kg), with the total system including the pod to weigh between 300-400lb, he says. The system would operate independently from the crew.


Northrop Grumman says it is "very sensitive" with regards to airline needs and economics. A commercial DIRCM would cost in the region of $1 million per aircraft, but Ackleson says the US government is discussing the feasibility of financing the purchase of the equipment, with airlines to maintain them, if it mandates equipage.

Ackleson says that if 300 aircraft were equipped, the operations and maintenance cost would be $26.50 per flight hour, which would have less than a 1% impact on transoceanic airline cost structure – or a $0.60 per passenger cost.

Ackleson says although airlines were largely negative about the technology to begin with, recent incidents involving missile attacks on commercial aircraft, including against a DHL freighter at Baghdad and an Israeli airliner at Mombasa, Kenya, late last year, have changed attitudes.

Source: Flight Daily News