New L-3 missile protection for bizav operators

 - January 31, 2007, 4:32 AM

L-3 Avisys is offering business aircraft operators a missile protection system based on the Widebody Integrated Platform Protection System (WIPPS) that it installed on an Airbus A340 last year for a Middle Eastern head-of-state customer. According to Avisys president Ron Gates, the package is demonstrating extremely low false-alarm rates and promises life-cycle costs that could be no more than one-seventh of those of rival laser-based directed infrared countermeasure systems.

WIPPS combines a pulse Doppler radar missile warning system provided by Thales with ultraviolet detection technology from EADS. The system uses advanced algorithms to compare the two detection inputs and calculate extremely accurate range and time-to-impact data for incoming missiles.

Avisys, an Austin, Texas-based subsidiary of L-3 Communications, has estimated that WIPPS’ false alarm rate could be as low as 1 in 80,000 flight hours and eventually should meet the 1-in-300,000-flights goal stated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for missile protection systems. The A340 has been using the system since January last year and has yet to experience a single false alarm.

WIPPS also employs dual infrared countermeasures, which consist of low-temperature pyrotechnic flares and pyrophoric decoys. The rapidly oxidizing pyrophoric devices create “clouds” that distract incoming missiles but are invisible to the naked eye in daylight and emit no more than a slight red glow at night.

Ultimately, Avisys would like to switch WIPPS to an all-pyrophoric countermeasures package since this would likely allay any remaining safety and environmental concerns on the part of civil aviation authorities. However, senior v-p Dennis Derr emphasized that the existing flares burn at low temperatures with a very short “hot time” that allows them to be deployed around busy airports and urban areas.

For civil applications, WIPPS should need to be maintained only during scheduled overhaul checks at an operator’s home base. Its component systems, such as the countermeasures, have a modular design that makes them easy to replace.

Asked about aircrew training requirements, Avisys told AIN that WIPPS can operate in a fully automatic mode so that no input from the aircrew is required. However, as is the case for military applications, the system can also be operated manually, according to operator preference.

Protection against Manpads
The WIPPS automatically arms itself between 100 feet and 20,000 feet to be effective against all potential shoulder-launched missile threats. Avisys claims its missile defense system is currently the only one that can counter simultaneous launches of shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles in all weather conditions.

The A340 installation was done under an STC. WIPPS has yet to receive operational approval from the FAA, but the head-of-state operator has flown the system worldwide during the past 12 months under waivers from the national aviation authorities concerned.

Avisys has already held talks with several leading business aircraft manufacturers with a view to offering WIPPS to operators. The acquisition cost for the 200-pound kit would vary according to the operational requirements of different airframes and the number of systems ordered.

Last year, Avisys and its partners lost a bid for one of the two $45 million Phase II research and development contracts awarded by the DHS (see AIN December 2004, page 18). However, the group remains hopeful that federal officials will be willing to reconsider its Commercial Airliner Protection System (CAPS, the airline equivalent of WIPPS) if there are problems with either of the selected packages from consortia led by BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman.

The L-3 subsidiary has acted as systems integrator for the WIPPS and CAPS systems. In addition to Thales and EADS, the partners in the programs are United Airlines, Alliant Techsystems, Alloy Surfaces, Arinc, Armtec, Georgia Tech Research Institute, SaabTech and Symetrics Industries.