RAF Pursues Common DAS Demonstrator

Douglas Barrie/London

Demonstrator program aims to look at large-aircraft and helo protection Printed headline: Self-Defense

The Royal Air Force is pushing ahead with development of an aircraft-protection system, with a technology demonstrator program set to get underway.

Selex Galileo will direct the four-year effort leading to a Common Defensive Aids System (CDAS). The goal is to devise a common approach to protecting the air force's transport and rotary-wing fleets. Elements of the work may also carry over to fast-jet protection.

The project is intended to begin by year-end and would conclude toward the end of 2013.

Recent combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have required aircraft and helicopters to be upgraded using urgent operational requirements, as a result of a number of capability gaps. In the case of rotary-wing platforms, these have included the AAR-57 missile warning system. Transport aircraft operating in combat theaters have been fitted with the AAQ-24 large-aircraft infrared countermeasures.

British aircraft have been lost to hostile ground fire in Iraq. An RAF C-130K was shot down by medium- and small-arms fire, while an Army Lynx was downed by a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile (SAM). In the case of the Lynx, an SA-14 Gremlin was the possible cause.

Small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades have also emerged as a threat in current operations, and the ability to counter these is a priority within the Defense Ministry. A Chinook received considerable damage during a mission in March 2008, including being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

In terms of shoulder-launched SAM threats, the SA-14 is thought also to be present in Afghanistan, along with possibly the SA-16 Gimlet and SA-18 Grouse, and at least one model of Chinese man-portable air defense system.

Little information has been released on firings of shoulder-launched SAMs against allied forces in Afghanistan, but there is clearly a credible threat, given the emphasis on equipping aircraft and helicopters, along with using tactics to minimize exposure to such systems.

Entry into and exit from operational theaters for troop-transport aircraft is dependent upon an operational DAS. If the system is not available, the flight is scrubbed or held until a repair can be carried out.

As for the RAF's strategy, it aims to have a "palette" of common components (rather than a single system) from which a particular aircraft or helicopter fit could be drawn. This would build on technology development work already being funded by the Defense Ministry. A CDAS road map has been put together by the director of equipment capability, theater airspace. The CDAS work is also likely included in the ministry's air platform survivability element of the Defense Technology Plan, though no details have been made publicly available. This is understood to cover improved electro-optical (EO) and IR countermeasures as well as better radio-frequency countermeasures.

In the near term, the CDAS effort will look at bolstering defensive capabilities against the threats faced in Afghanistan. It will also develop countermeasures to systems such as so-called double-digit SAMs, including the S-400 (SA-21 Growler) family, which is beginning to enter service with the Russian armed forces.

The CDAS work will include the demonstration of a missile warning system, hostile-fire indicator, directed infrared countermeasures, and elements of a directed EO countermeasures within an integrated DAS structure. The level of integration and automation is also likely to be a focus.

In the case of the hostile-fire indicator (HFI), the effort will likely include study work from various companies--including BAE Systems, Thales and Selex--already developing applicable technologies. Flight trials could get underway before the end of 2009. BAE has already flight-tested a system in the U.S. using an acoustic detection approach.

The intent of developing an HFI would be to provide aircrews with an indicator showing where ground fire is coming from so they can make the appropriate evasive maneuver. This would improve what is traditionally known as threat avoidance.

Photo credit: U.K. Royal Air Force

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