Military

Black Hawk helicopters testing new counter-missile system

The US Army is testing a laser system designed to confuse and deter infrared-guided missiles aimed at its UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, according to an Army release.

The new Common Infrared Countermeasures system (CIRCM), developed by Northrop Grumman, is designed to counter short-range heat-seeking missiles fired from man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS, which are easy-to-use, highly portable weapons that can be operated by a small crew and are available on the black market, making them attractive to non-state actors who want to target low-flying aircraft like helicopters.

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The CIRCM will replace the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures (ATIRCM), which is only deployed on CH-47 Chinooks aircraft because of its size. CIRCM will be a lighter-weight update that Black Hawks, and eventually CH-47 Chinooks and AH-64 Apache gunships, can use, according to The Drive.

Soldiers from the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment at Fort Hood in Texas deployed to Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal to test the new system, flying eight missions of varying types — including medical evacuation, air assault, and air movement — during both day and night.

The missions produced 40 hours of usable data showing how the system would operate in realistic combat environments, according to the Army.

1st Lt. Peter Zeidler, test unit officer-in-charge, conducts an air mission brief during operational testing of the Common Infrared Countermeasures at the Redstone Test Center, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.
US Army/CWO 4 Toby Blackmon

“We designed the test events to cover all the potential environments that aircrews may find themselves in,” Chief Warrant Officer 4 Toby Blackmon, of the US Army Operational Test Command’s Aviation Test Directorate, said in the release.

The CIRCM uses two compact pointer/trackers to follow infrared-guided weapons aimed at an aircraft and then engages one of its two lasers to confuse the weapons and keep them from hitting the target. Its technology is designed to evolve as new infrared weapons systems are designed and threaten US aircraft, according to Northrop Grumman.

“Due to the evolving battlefield threats, the CIRCM comes at a pivotal time for Army aviation in order to improve the survivability of our crews that will be deploying in support of combat operations,” Blackmon said.

The CIRCM complements the Common Missile Warning System (CMWS) already in place in Army helicopters. The CWMS detects missiles using electro-optical sensing, which “sees” the missile and warns pilots of incoming threats using audio and visual signals.

MANPADS have become increasingly adept at evading countermeasures, leading the military to install Directional Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) systems, like the CIRCM, on many of its helicopters and some aircraft.

Northrop Grumman also developed a Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (LAIRCM) system for use on Apaches, Chinooks, and some Black Hawks but had unexplained issues using the system on the UH-60, according to The Drive.

LAIRCM systems are still in use on VH-60N helicopters, which are designated Marine One when they carry the US president, and work by jamming the attacking missile.

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