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Posted 1 April 2019 · Add Comment

As the region sees its airspace become increasingly dangerous, demand is increasing for integrated aircraft protection systems.

Military aircraft in the Middle East region face a myriad of ground-based surface-to-air (SAM) threats – everything from shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles to complex radar-guided systems.
The proliferation of these air defence assets throughout the region is driving demand for integrated aircraft protection suites that are able to meet a range of emerging state and non-state threats.
While much focus is placed on the advanced aircraft that are being sought by air forces in the region, it is often the lesser discussed sub-systems that are key, especially when it comes to survivability in contested environments. These sub-systems, such as missile ‘warners’, decoys and jammers, enable aircraft to defend themselves and survive in contested airspaces.
Indeed, like other parts of the world, the region is seeing its airspace become increasingly dangerous as new air defence systems are acquired and brought online.
The civil wars in Syria and Yemen have shone light on how aircraft are at risk in the region, with several shoot-downs in both conflicts.
In September 2018, a Russian Il-20M ‘Coot’ surveillance aircraft was accidentally shot down by a Syrian S-200 battery, leading to more advanced S-300 systems being brought in by Russia.
Even outside of conflict zones, Russian air defence systems are garnering interest from several Middle East nations.
In 2018, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar expressed a desire to purchase Russia’s highly-advanced S-400 Triumph air defence system. According to data from Rosoboronexport, the detection range of an S-400 is upwards of 600km, with the ability to track more than 300 targets at once, and engage at distances out to 250km.
It is no surprise, then, that aircraft being supplied into the region are fitted out with an array of self-protection measures to meet this threat.
Kuwait’s new F/A-18E/F aircraft will come equipped with the AN/ALE-55 fibre-optic towed decoy from BAE Systems, enabling offboard radio frequency (RF) jamming of incoming missiles, as well as Raytheon-developed radar warning receivers to alert crews when they are being tracked, and, importantly, being targeted.
Kuwait’s new Typhoon aircraft will also benefit from the Praetorian defensive aids sub-system (DASS) developed by the Leonardo-led EuroDASS consortium, which is standard to all Eurofighter aircraft. “Praetorian is a highly integrated system; it encompasses an active missile warning system, [electronic support measures] detection... and on-board jamming capability and off-board jamming with a towed radar decoy,” explained Jon McCullagh, head of strategic campaigns, electronic warfare, Leonardo Airborne and Space Systems.
“All that is integrated into the entire aircraft in terms of the human machine interface,” he continued. “When the Typhoon senses an imminent threat, the pilot gets a warning noise and an arrow in the head-up display (HUD) saying roll the aircraft in this direction, pull on the stick, and while that is happening the Typhoon will do what it needs to do in terms of activating on-board countermeasures.
“It’s a quantum leap in technology.”
McCullagh singled out the proliferation of large strategic SAM systems in the Middle East region as one of the key concerns for air forces. “They can effectively deny a large volume of airspace, out to hundreds of kilometres. And they utilise more advanced radar systems than we’ve seen before. They are optimised for different targets within the large volume of airspace they are protecting, which brings different challenges for the DASS.”
Leonardo also recently unveiled its BriteEye offering, which integrates the company’s SEER radar warning receiver with a number of countermeasures, including the BriteCloud off-board decoy, to give fast jets an advanced, integrated protection suite against radio frequency (RF)-guided missiles.
BriteCloud – now in service on UK Royal Air Force Tornado aircraft – can be fired out of traditional ‘55’ and ‘218’ dispensing systems. However, instead of chaff, it emits an RF signal to draw away an incoming missile.
In the future, BriteCloud is expected to be compatible with the RAF Typhoon’s new smart dispensing system, developed by Saab, which will relay data to the countermeasure before launch.
“We’ve already had interest from a lot of Middle Eastern countries that are looking to upgrade the defensive capabilities of their current aircraft,” said McCullagh. “We are in negotiation with a number of nations about how we will introduce it [BriteCloud] into service with them over the next few years.”
McCullagh said the company could partner with other domestic electronic or aviation component manufacturers to create an indigenous protective jamming solution.
Leonardo has also teamed with Terma to offer its compact jamming system (CJS) for the Danish company’s electronic combat integrated pylons system (ECIPS). The ECIPS/CJS incorporates a powerful RF jammer and is being marketed as an “upgrade path” for existing F-16 aircraft. It sits within the current flight envelope of the in-service ECIPS+, so no modifications are required as part of a mid-life upgrade. It is also compatible with BriteCloud.
Terma also supplies its modular aircraft survivability equipment (MASE) pods into the Middle East region. These are specifically developed for addressing the man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) threat, which still persists in the region owing to their proliferation among non-state actors and their relative low-cost compared with strategic SAMs.
The 25kg pod incorporates directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM), flare dispensers and missile warning sensors, to give 360 degree protection against MANPADS.
The UAE is one known customer of the MASE pods, with one source noting that it had at least 24 pairs to outfit its fleet of Iomax Archangel turboprop aircraft, used for counterinsurgency operations.
One downside of a podded solution is that it takes up two wing pylons, which is valuable real estate for carrying guided missiles and other weapons.
DIRCM continues to grow in popularity, especially as this type of defensive system reduces in size, weight and power requirements to enable integration on a wider variety of platforms. Traditionally, this type of countermeasure was only available for larger assets, including troop transports and VIP aircraft, although it is now trickling down to smaller manned and unmanned aircraft including vulnerable “low and slow” platforms, such as helicopters.
This type of system can supplement traditional flares and works by tracking an incoming threat (detected by UV/IR missile warning sensors) and then jamming the infrared/heat-seeking missile by directing a laser into its guidance system.
Only a few companies have mature and operationally deployed DIRCM solutions, one being Leonardo with its Miysis product that was unveiled at the IDEX exhibition in 2013.
“We cannot lose sight of the fact that infrared MANPADS continue to be a considerable threat to both commercial and military aircraft around the world,” said Tony Innes, head of DIRCM campaigns at Leonardo Airborne and Space Systems.
“Instability in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Libya make it incredibly difficult to account for these MANPADS,” he added.
Innes said that, along with the Royal Canadian Air Force (which has equipped its CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft with Miysis), there is also a Middle Eastern customer for the defensive system, although the country and platform type is confidential.
For the CP-140 programme, Miysis integrates with Hensoldt missile warning sensors.
Leonardo has also carried out trials with support of the UK Government to integrate its DIRCM solution with Thales’ new Elix-IR warning system, a sovereign UK capability that provides a missile approach warner and hostile fire indication to crew as part of a defensive aids system.
Italian company Elettronica and Spanish manufacturer Indra also sell DIRCM systems, with both companies announcing a partnership in 2018 to develop a Quantum Cascade laser-based DIRCM, dubbed EuroDIRQM.
This gives Middle East customers a far wider range of options to choose from to protect their aerial assets against MANPADS, and, importantly, they are International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR)-free, making them far easier to acquire compared with competitor systems originating from US manufacturers.
Whether it is lightweight MANPADS technology that hone in on heat signatures of low-flying aircraft, or higher-end strategic systems with advanced digital radar guidance to hit far-off targets, aerial platforms across the region need to be prepared to defend themselves against future surface-to-air threats.
New defensive systems are giving crews greater protection in increasingly contested airspaces, but the cat-and-mouse game between advanced SAMs and aircraft continues.

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