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Aircrafts employing Directed InfraRed CounterMeasure (DIRCM) to counter threat of Manpads, the shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles

Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) are surface-to-air missiles that can be carried and fired by a single individual or carried by several individuals and fired by more than one person acting as a crew. MANPADS were designed to be used by national military forces to protect their troops and facilities. With their relatively short range, MANPADS are regarded as the last missile-based air defense available to protect against aerial attack, to be deployed in tandem with gun-type systems that seek to defeat attacking aircraft by destroying them with a barrage of projectiles.


MANPADS pose a serious threat to passenger air travel, the commercial aviation industry, and military aircraft around the world. Their availability, ease of use, small size, portability and fire and forget weapon characteristics, all add to the appeal of these weapons to terrorist groups. With an altitude range of 10,000 to 15,000 feet they would make airliners especially vulnerable during take-off and landing. Since 1975, 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPADS, causing about 28 crashes and more than 800 deaths around the world.


By some estimates there are likely over half a million MANPADS worldwide. Certain portions of those weapons are widely available and obtainable on the black market. The export of these weapons is also a potential risk. Russia is far and away the single largest exporter of MANPADS, with more than 10,000 systems sold from 2010 to 2018. Among the countries purchasing Russian MANPADS are Iraq, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Qatar, and Libya.  Of the top five exporting countries, China sells MANPADS to the most unstable countries. These unstable countries include Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sudan, South Sudan, and Cameroon. With only moderate training, terrorists or other nonstate actors can and have used these weapons against both military and civilian aircraft.


Multiple mitigation options can be used to reduce the risk of an attack. These include  reducing the likelihood of a successful attack with both ground-based and aircraft countermeasures, limiting aircraft damage from successful attacks by modifying aircraft, managing the consequences of a successful attack on an aircraft by improving the emergency response.  Most MANPADS attacks against civilian airliners occur in conflict zones. These attacks overwhelmingly occur during civil (as opposed to interstate) wars. Preventing weapon employment through the use of flight restrictions, technical-use controls, airport vulnerability assessments, and altering aircraft flight operations


Aircraft self protection against missiles requires increased sophistication as missile capabilities increase. MANPADS generally employ Heat-seekers  to track a plane by detecting the heat generated by the engines or even friction caused by an object moving through the air at high speeds. Recent advances in self protection include the use of directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM), employing high power lamps or lasers as sources of infrared energy. . DIRCM, when incorporated into an aircraft defensive suite, gives automatic alarm if a infrared missile has been launched and shoots a high intensity quantum cascade laser at the incoming weapon’s guidance sensor, causing it to loose its lock. As demand increases, major defence companies can be expected to put forward operational DIRCM systems in the next three to five years.


Most MANPADS also known as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles consist of: 1) a missile packaged in a tube; 2) a launching mechanism (commonly known as a “gripstock”); and 3) a a thermal battery (or battery coolant unit). The tubes, which protect the missile until it has been fired, are disposable. Launch tubes are generally made of hardened plastic and Kevlar and are hermetically sealed to reduce environmental contamination. Rudimentary sights are mounted on the tube. A single-use battery is typically used to power the missile prior to launch. The missile itself is comprised of three main sections: guidance, warhead, and propulsion.


Composed of a firing mechanism (the trigger) and a stock, most MANPADS gripstocks are similar in design. The stock attaches to the launch tube, often with a clip. MANPADS firing mechanisms engage the thermal battery or BCU and launch the missile. They resemble a pistol or rifle trigger assembly and, just as with a pistol or a rifle, engage the weapon system. Gripstocks are typically the only reusable MANPADS component. They generally are designed for a specific type of MANPADS and are not interchangeable between types.


The battery provides sufficient power for prelaunch tasks, such as spinning up the missile’s gyroscope, activating the onboard thermal battery or generator, and igniting the ejection motor.Battery coolant units (BCUs) are used for MANPADS equipped with cooled IR seekers. They supply gas coolant to the missile’s seeker in addition to electrical power. The shelf life  of batteries varies, but there are reports of batteries providing enough charge to launch an SA-7 more than 25 years old. Batteries generally provide enough charge for only one shot. As battery life is one of the most significant constraints on MANPADS use, terrorist organizations often craft their own from the batteries of computers, cameras, cars, and motorcycles.


MANPADS launch tubes typically range from about 4 feet to 6 1/2 feet (1.2 to 2 meters) in length and are about 3 inches (72 millimeters) in diameter. Their weight, with launcher, varies from about 28 pounds to just over 55 pounds (13 to 25 kilograms). They are easy to transport and conceal. Some of the most commonly proliferated MANPADS can easily fit into the trunk of an automobile.


There are three main types of MANPADS: 1) Infrared (IR) systems that hone in on an aircraft’s heat source, usually the engine or the engine’s exhaust plume. The passive homing makes it difficult for the target’s crew to detect the incoming MANPADS. Examples of IR-seeking MANPADS include the Russian Igla-S and the U.S. Stinger. 2) Command Line-of-Sight (CLOS) systems whereby the MANPADS operator visually acquires the target aircraft using a magnified optical sight, and then uses radio controls to guide the missile into the aircraft . Command-guided MANPADS systems are generally heavier and require a tripod or mount. However, their missiles are generally lighter because they do not have IR seekers. Moreover, command-guided MANPADS are generally more difficult to operate, often requiring a crew. Two families of command-guided MANPADS exist—the British Blowpipe, Javelin, Starburst, and Starstreak series, and the Swedish
RBS-70 series, which is produced by Saab-Bofors 3) Laser Beam Riders in which the missile flies along the laser beam and strikes the aircraft where the operator has aimed the laser


Depending on model and variant, MANPADS IR missiles have a range of 500 meters (546 yards) to 8km (5 miles), and can reach an altitude of 16,000 feet (4,876m). They can attain a speed of about twice the speed of sound and strike aircraft flying) at a range of up to 3.2 miles (5 kilometers). Most of the older systems are ineffective against modern military aircraft, though civilian aircraft remain vulnerable due to the lack of countermeasures.


The U.S. Department of Defense divides MANPADS into five categories, or generations. The key distinction between each generation is the technology of the weapon and its initial operational capability date. Among the various MANPADS available today, first-generation systems are the least sophisticated, and fourth-generation systems are the most advanced. (Although fifth-generation systems, such as the QW-4, are reportedly under development. Third-generation MANPADS, such as the SA-18, are all-aspect weapons equipped with IR counter-countermeasures that are capable of distinguishing a flare from an aircraft. However, they can have difficulty defeating multiple flares. The newer Russian systems in this category, such as the SA-24, are easier to use and require less training and assembly time, allowing the user to fire at a faster pace.



There are an estimated 500,000 MANPADS in the world today, many thousands of which are thought to be on the black market and therefore accessible to terrorists and other non-state actors. MANPADS are attractive to terrorists and insurgents because they are:

Lethal—the history of MANPADS usage by guerrillas and terrorists underscores the efficacy of these weapons against both civilian and military targets. Estimates of deaths resulting from MANPADS attacks on civilian aircraft range from 500 to 1000. While most of these deaths were from attacks on smaller aircraft, the Congressional Research Service identified 5 cases in which large civilian turbojet aircraft were targeted. In two of the five cases, the outcome was catastrophic – all people on board were killed.

Insurgent groups seek MANPADS because they are effective against attack helicopters and other aircraft that are used in counter-insurgency operations. During the Soviet occupations of Afghanistan, rebels used U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles to damage or destroy hundreds of aircraft, degrading the threat from Soviet airpower.


Highly portable and concealable—MANPADS are around 5 feet long and weigh approximately 30 to 40 pounds.  They fit in a gulf club bag, in the back of a truck, or in the cargo area of a small boat. Because MANPADS are easy to transport, conceal, and use – and because a single successful attack against an airliner would have serious consequences for the international civilian aviation industry – they are particularly attractive weapons to terrorists and criminals.


Inexpensive—Early model MANPADS can be acquired on the black market for several thousand dollars. In exceptional circumstances, that price can drop to as low as a few hundred dollars; manpads pilfered from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s massive arms stockpiles were later purchased by the Coalition Provisional Authority for a mere $500 apiece. While later generation manpads cost significantly more (>$30,000), they are still within easy reach of well financed terrorist and criminal groups.


Many newer MANPADS now employ advanced microprocessors for improved tracking ability, and improved infrared counter countermeasures (IRCCM) capability. Threats are also evolving to incorporate imaging technology – visible energy – to ‘look’ for aircraft. Fourth-generation MANPADS, such as the FN-6, are dramatically more sophisticated than previous generations. They use microprocessing for their seeker function and feature advanced IR counter-countermeasures. Newer fourth-generation MANPADS, such as the Chinese FN-16 and the Russian Verba, have multispectral IR/ultraviolet seekers, which further complicates countermeasure development. In the future, fifth-generation MANPADS are expected to be equipped with imagingseekers, which could further enhance MANPADS’ counter-countermeasure and clutter rejection capabilities. Moreover, these seekers could enable aim-point selection capabilities, thereby increasing lethality. There are no fifth-generation shoulder-fired MANPADS known to be in production today

MANPADS Mitigation Options

Options for mitigating MANPADS attacks range from ways to prevent terrorist groups from operating effectively to changes in contingency response planning to limit casualties and damage to physical structures.

  1. Disrupting or degrading  terorist operations. These options are designed to limit the ability of NSAGs to operate effectively. They include seizing assets, extraditing and prosecuting group members, prosecuting entities that do business with them, and capturing or killing group members.
  2. Preventing MANPADS acquisition. These options are focused on preventing MANPADS transfers to NSAGs by using export control agreements, interdiction, weapon storage and monitoring, weapon recognition and disablement training, and market reduction activities.
  3. Preventing MANPADS employment. These options limit the ability of NSAGs to use weapons by using flight restrictions to limit aircraft exposure, technical-use controls, airport vulnerability evaluations, and changes in aircraft flight operations.
  4. Reducing likelihood of a successful attack. These options are designed to reduce the chance that a missile will hit an aircraft. They include the use of ground-based countermeasures and aircraft countermeasures.
  5. Limiting aircraft damage from a successful attack. The historical data on MANPADS attacks suggest that the likelihood of a civilian jet aircraft retaining sufficient functionality to land after being hit by a MANPADS is approximately 50 percent. These options are intended to reduce aircraft vulnerability to an attack. They include hardening aircraft structures; replacing oxygen in fuel tanks with inert gases to reduce the likelihood of fires; adding redundant, isolated flight control systems; and changing pilot training.  A technology that could potentially offer a significant enhancement is the Propulsion Controlled Aircraft (PCA) system, a computer-aided engine control system that enables pilots to fly and land an aircraft safely when its normal flight control surfaces are degraded or inoperable. Developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, PCA technology has been successfully demonstrated on a range of aircraft, including large transports. Moreover, PCA technology would also be useful in situations where a mechanical failure led to the loss of flight controls.
  6. Managing consequences. These options are designed to limit losses from an attack in which an aircraft is damaged or lost. They include contingency planning and disaster response activities.
  7. Pilot Training. Changes in pilot training could also improve commercial aircraft survivability in the event of a MANPADS attackAirline pilots are trained to fly with one engine inoperable, even during critical phases of flight, such as takeoff and landing. This training should provide at least some carryover benefit for situations involving the loss of an engine because of a MANPADS strike.


Manpads countermeasures

Military aircraft and helicopters are designed for IR signature suppression such as engine masking in Northrop Grumman B-2 Stealth Bomberto reduce an aircraft’s infrared signature. Dissipating IR energy is usually done through the addition of IR suppressors, or by using heat exchangers. Heat exchangers on the other hand, use fluid or materials to absorb and exchange heat. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II makes use of fuel to dissipate thermal loads generated by the aircraft’s avionics suite and sub-systems.


First-generation MANPADS missiles, often referenced to as ‘tail-chase’ missiles, were often defeated by the use of flares which burn hotter than an aircraft’s engine/exhaust, thereby decoying infrared heat-seeking missiles. Later generation IR missiles employ enhanced guidance section section cooling which increases their acuity for heat sources on aircraft. IR missile capability has been further enhanced by single or multiple detectors in the guidance section which have the ability to recognize and reject flares dispensed from aircraft. Newer infrared seekers also tend to have multi-spectral sensitivity tailored to more closely match the emissions of airplanes, and are also incorporating enhanced IRCCM.


MANPADS have become increasingly resistant to standard countermeasure such as decoy flares and, as such, the most effective defence from MANPADS is to directly attack them with a high power, multi-band, laser DIRCM system. Modern MANPADS can engage low signature threats from any aspect, meaning that DIRCM systems must now provide all-aspect protection. Missile warning systems (MWS) alert the targeted aircraft, including the aircraft’s IRCMs, of an incoming missile


“Because countermeasures have become so effective, threat manufacturers seek to add different ways to counter the countermeasures. What you’re seeing in the field of countermeasures is a constant cat and mouse game of cyclical capabilities which constantly evolves, and is usually driven by the pace of geopolitical events,” said Tom Kirkpatrick, a business development manager for BAE Systems Survivability, Targeting, and Sensing Solutions. “In today’s world, they [MANPADS] are a very present threat so the technology has ramped up in the last few years as we see threats proliferate, and we see countermeasures advancing to counter those.”


Directional Infrared Counter Measures (DIRCM)

As IR seeking technology has improved and diversified, standard IRCM systems have become less effective at defeating heat-seeking missiles. Measures such as flares have begun to give way to lasers, which, when fitted on a directional pivoting mount, allow for more effective, concentrated and energy-efficient directional targeting of IR radiation at incoming missile seekers.


One technology that was identified for potential commercial use is the so-called Directed InfraRed CounterMeasure (DIRCM), an infrared device that jams missile guidance systems. Directional IRCM, or DIRCM, allows for a countermeasures laser to be targeted directly at an incoming IR threat. DIRCMs direct a beam of infrared energy at the missile’s seeker. The beam, which generates a target signal that is stronger than that of the targeted aircraft, fools the guidance system into thinking the missile is off course. The guidance system responds by adjusting the missile’s flight path. The DIRCM continues to direct the IR beam at the missile until it is so off course that it no longer poses a threat to the aircraft.


This makes possible a more powerful and effective defense than previous, non-directional infrared countermeasures, as the threat is directly addressed rather than the system essentially painting an area with IR disruption, which results in a weaker signal in any given direction. Directional IR countermeasures (DIRCM) systems on aircraft are designed to track, and direct energy toward, a threat. In particular, preemptive DIRCM systems should be able to detect, identify, and counter a threat before any missile (or other weapon) has even been fired. These systems integrate advanced fiber laser technology together with a high frame rate thermal camera and a small, highly dynamic mirror turret.


In the past, preemptive DIRCM system technologies have been studied as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Multifunctional Electro-Optics for Defense of US Aircraft (MEDUSA) program. In preemptive DIRCM systems, it is important to detect and analyze several different signatures, including ones that are not treated in conventional DIRCM systems. Such signals may include laser emission from the target, retro-reflections from optical sights and seekers, or the optical signatures of the weapon and operator (including the aiming and tracking activity).


Current DIRCMs cannot be easily adapted to the US commercial air fleet, and must be re-engineered. The current available DIRCMs have roughly 300 hours of life before they must be repaired or refurbished. While suitable for the military or special purpose aircraft, given their maintenance and logistical infrastructure, this is not regarded as suitable for US commercial air fleet use. The cost of the training, ground support equipment, supplies and spares, and logistics trail that would need to be in place at every US airport could be prohibitive. Estimates put this cost at as much as $5 billion to $10 billion per year, a burden that the US commercial air carrier industry said it cannot bear.


Countries field Directed IR Countermeasures Solutions

The U.S. Army’s new programme of record for laser-based aircraft missile defence is the CIRCM (Common Infrared Countermeasures) programme, which is intended to develop a lightweight, low-cost and modular infrared protection system for U.S. helicopters and light fixed-wing aircraft. Northrop Grumman was selected to deliver the CIRCM programme. CIRCM is part of a suite of infrared countermeasures that utilises the CMWS and an Improved Countermeasure Dispenser (ICMD) for flares and chaff. According to the company, their CIRCM solution uses a compact ECLIPSE pointer/tracker, a lightweight commercial-off-the-shelf processor, and advanced Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL) technology for greater reliability and scalability.


Northrop Grumman has developed the Guardian system for use by larger legacy aircraft. The fully automatic system provides 360° protection against a wide range of missile threats. The system includes an ultraviolet missile warning sensor and a multiband laser pointer/ tracker. Northrop Grumman Systems is being awarded an order in support of the upgrade of the AN/AAQ-24 large aircraft infrared counter-measure (LAIRCM) system.


In the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) – Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has contracted Leonardo and Thales to demonstrate an infrared protection system. The companies are currently engaged in development activities to bring together two of their most advanced products: Thales’s ‘Elix-IR’ Threat Warning System and Leonardo’s ‘Miysis’ DIRCM system. Under the contracts, funding from the UK MoD will support lab-based and field trials of the integrated system in early 2018 and help evaluate its use for current and future UK air platform protection.


Italy’s Elettronica Group and Indra of Spain aim to develop the first European Quantum Cascade Laser-based infrared countermeasure system, dubbed EuroDIRQM. Indra (Spain) and Elettronica Group (Italy) are collaborating on the development of a next-generation Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL)-based Direct Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) system for protection of rotary and fixed wing aircraft.


South Korea has developed an advanced infrared missile countermeasure that can better protect aircraft from attacks, the government said Sunday. The country’s Defense Acquisition Programs Administration (DAPA) said it teamed up with local defense contractor Hanwha Systems to build the directional infrared countermeasure (DIRCM).


Leonardo is offering the Miysis DIRCM as a system which comprises a point tracker solution and a specifically developed Type 160 IRCM laser module in a baseline integrated turret solution characterized by reduced size (183mm wide, 270 mm long and 341 mm high), weight (16 kg) and power consumption (typical 190W with maximum 535W capable) which presents external airframe reduced drag. The Type 160 IRCM is described as a multi-watt, multi-band fiber-pumped laser, fully compliant with the requirements for DIRCM systems used to protect the largest strategic aircraft and support helicopters. The Type 160 IRCM laser provides high reliability for protection from attack by the full spectrum of Infra-Red (IR) guided MANPADS, according to Leonardo.


Countermeasures system to equip KC-130J planes

BAE Systems announced a $26.7 million U.S. Navy contract to fit its infrared countermeasures system onto KC-130J cargo and refueling planes, the company said. The contract calls for the installation of the Navy’s Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures system (LAIRCM) the aircraft.


The system is a defensive warning package combining a missile warning system and infrared laser jammer countermeasure system to protect the aircraft from guided missiles. Up to 19 KC-130J planes of the Navy will receive the system, which will be installed in Crestview, Fla., in conjunction with Vertex Aerospace LLC.


The KC-130 series, built by Lockheed Martin, is capable of aircraft carrier landings despite its size, and is in use by the militaries of 17 countries. France received its second, a refueling plane, in February 2020 . The aircraft is capable of detecting and tracking incoming missiles, incorporating missile warning sensors, a compact laser pointer/tracker, and a processor in a single pod that can be readily transferred between aircraft. Already installed on older KC-130 planes, the pod is attached to the underside of the plane.


Elbit Systems aims to advance DIRCM portfolio

Systems’ DIRCM portfolio consists of C-Music poded systems for large military aircraft and commercial jet aircraft, J-Music distributed DIRCM systems for large to medium aircraft, mini-Music for small to medium helicopters and planes, and Music for helicopters and small to medium fixed-wing turboprop aircraft. So far, the company has received orders for about 135 DIRCM systems from 19 clients on 26 types of platforms including civilian, VIP, tankers, transport, helicopters, and special mission aircraft.


Elbit Systems’ MUSIC™ is a family of high-performance, laser-based DIRCM solutions designed to protect aircraft against heat-seeking ground-to-air missiles. Multi Spectral Infrared Countermeasures (MUSIC) counters the threats of surface-to-air IR missiles and protects passenger, VIP and transport aircraft, as well as attack and utility helicopters. MUSIC can be installed on the full range of military and commercial aircraft without any negative impact on the platform’s performance. Israeli airliners are being equipped with C-Music DIRCM pods, which can be removed and reattached in minutes.


The laser fired by the Music DIRCM systems is not in the visible spectrum, leading to its approval by some civilian fight agencies, allowing civil, VIP, military tankers, and transport aircraft equipped with them to land at civilian airports. The cannons are based on fibre laser technology, which the company described as combining a “high-power requirement with a small size”. Elbit Systems’ DIRCM solutions have been selected by the Israeli government to protect commercial Israeli airliners, by the Italian Air Force to protect the C27J, C130J and AW101 helicopter platforms and by the Brazilian Air Force to protect the KC-390 aircraft. In addition, a number of other countries have chosen the DIRCM solutions to protect a large variety of military, VIP and commercial aircraft.


Elbit Systems is turning its attention to developing next-generation solutions as the threats change. Improvements are being made to alerts, electro-optical abilities, and laser cannons. Fibre laser technology is undergoing continuous upgrades and is moving towards high power laser applications, according to Elbit Systems. Company sources said that new algorithms are being developed to upgrade the system’s threat processing components. Specialised lenses and advanced directional gyros play an important part in the evolving technology.


Distributed Aperture Infrared Countermeasure System (DAIRCM)

Leonardo DRS, U.S. based subsidiary of the Italian firm, delivered on March 18, 2020 the first operational AN/AAQ-45(V) Distributed Aperture Infrared Countermeasure (DAIRCM) fitted to an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. The contract, awarded by the U.S. Air Force Material Command in 2018 in response to a Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement (JUONS), covers the installation of the DAIRCM on a total of 30 helicopters plus 16 additional kits.


As advertised by the company, “DAIRCM is an aircraft survivability system approach that utilizes a single sensor for both 2-color IR missile warning and wide field of view gimbal for threat countermeasure. Additional capabilities of the sensor include hostile fire indication (HFI), laser warning, limited Degraded Visual Environment capability, distributed sensors available for providing 360-degree situational awareness.”


Preliminary results from Navy testing indicate the Distributed Aperture Infrared Countermeasures (DAIRCM) system as installed on the MH-60S and AH-1Z helicopters has the capability to defeat vehicle-launched infrared-guided missiles and man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). The DAIRCM system has the capability to detect laser-guided threats and hostile fire near the MH-60S and AH-1Z helicopters. During missions, the DAIRCM system is intended to provide automatic protection for rotary-wing aircraft against shoulder‑fired, vehicle-launched, and other infrared-guided missiles.


• The DAIRCM system is an integrated suite of missile warning, laser warning, hostile fire indicator, and infrared countermeasure components designed to protect rotary-wing aircraft from the threat posed by infrared missiles.
• The system uses a single, centrally installed laser that can feed all of the beam directors. The threat warning sensor sends raw video and digital data information to the processor, which analyzes the data for an incoming Missile, Laser, or Hostile Fire threat. If the processor detects a threat, it notifies the aircrew through the control interface unit and initiates the laser to direct jamming energy at the incoming missile, if applicable.
• The Navy’s Program Office for Advanced Tactical Aircraft Protection Systems, PMA-272, is the lead for developing the DAIRCM system.




About Rajesh Uppal

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