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New Laser Countermeasures Could Defeat RPGs

by John Reed on July 8, 2011

So, the U.S. Army has begun the process of choosing a new generation of laser countermeasures to protect low-flying military aircraft from 21st Century shoulder fired missiles. Current IR countermeasures found on Army helos aren’t effective against all types of heat-seeking missiles. Meanwhile, at about 200-pounds, the more effective, directional laser-based countermeasures like the AN/AAQ-24 are too heavy to install on smaller choppers like Black Hawk.

ITT gave DT a little heads up on the product their pitching in the contest. ITT’s system is lightweight, modular and built with open architecture software; features shared by most of the CIRCM competitors. This means it can be carried aboard smaller choppers like Black Hawks and easily upgraded and maintained. But the coolest thing about ITT’s product from DT’s standpoint is the fact that the company is pitching its potential (key word being potential) ability to counter what’s been the biggest threat to helos since Vietnam; low-tech RPGs and gunfire.

“We’ve built in a number of capabilities that are adjunct capabilities that come along and give us the possibility of defeating other threats and fulfilling other missions and one of those is hostile fire deterrent,” explained John Janis ITT’s chief engineer for CIRCM during an interview with DT. “In essence, what you do there is make it impossible for a human to observe your aircraft and aim his weapon at your aircraft by creating a distracting light source. That has been done in the past and is a proven technology and one that we can do out of the same apertures and out of the same system that we can do out of our infrared heat seeking missile countermeasures.”

Still, for this to work, the aircraft will need an automatic threat warning system similar to the ones that rapidly que DIRCM-style lasers toward incoming heat-seeking missiles.

“Those systems are in development,” added Janis.

To make such a system work, you’d have to accurately slave a laser to a system that can quickly detect the firing point of gunfire or man with an RPG.

Yet another potential feature of the system is the secure comms feature. Basically, the CIRCM could transmit gigabytes of data over lasers shot towards other aircraft of ground stations. Since laser beams are incredibly narrow compared to radio beams, they are far more difficult to intercept.

With “a radio signal you have a fairly wide spread for your beam and an interceptor only has to be somewhere in the vicinity to pick up and read that signal while with laser communications, for reasonable ranges, you really only paint the aircraft you’re” talking to with the laser beam, making the likelihood of intercept “nearly impossible,” said Janis.

“We’ve actually built a system that from a laser communications standpoint is exponentially faster than any [radio] link,” said Bob Ferrante, VP of ITT Electronic Systems during the same interview. “However, with lasers you do have environmental issues that impede it so this is a nascent technology.

The company is already working with the Naval Research Lab on a covert ship-to-shore datalink using this type of laser tech.

“Essentially by using the laser on the system and our back-end on the system, we can supplant or enhance any RF communications in a very secure manner; we’re talking gigabytes as opposed to megabytes per second,” added Ferrante. “Typically, you’re going to use that technology for high-resolution data streaming or if you want to insure that you’re not going to be intercepted.”

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