Northrop Grumman, named to supply its large-aircraft, infrared-countermeasures (LAIRCM) system on the U.S. Air Force’s new KC-46 tanker, recently demonstrated a podded version of the infrared-countermeasures system on the aircraft the tanker will replace, the KC-135.
The company also demonstrated its belly-mounted Guardian infrared-countermeasures (IRCM) system in Afghanistan in March for KC-135 refueling and aeromedical missions. The components in the pod are the same line-replaceable units (LRUs) used in the LAIRCM system, said Jeff Palombo, Northrop Grumman vice president and general manager for Land and Self Protection Systems Division.
Under the KC-X contract awarded in February, Boeing must deliver 18 initial operational KC-46A tankers to the Air Force by fiscal 2017.
“In the meantime, the KC-135 has to continue to fly its missions,” Palombo said. “It will be in areas when it’s going to be threatened by surface-to-air missiles. It previously has not been fitted with this product.” He added, “The transit case is actually the loading platform. It lifts [the Guardian pod] to the bottom of the airplane, and you bolt it in. It’s a very inexpensive, nonintrusive way of protecting the airplane.”
The pod used on the KC-135 was developed for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security counter-Manpads (man-portable air-defense system) demonstration for commercial aircraft, involving FedEx MD-10, MD-11 and Boeing 747-200 aircraft. That demonstration, concluded about three years ago, demonstrated the airworthiness of the pod solution.
Palumbo offered few details on the infrared-countermeasures system planned for the KC-46A. “It’s been dictated to be a version of the LAIRCM system, so it will be extremely similar to what’s flying on LAIRCM,” he said. “The Air Force has the lead with that.”
Northrop Grumman and partner Selex Galileo are offering an 85-pound infrared-countermeasures system for helicopters under the U.S. Army’s Common Infrared Countermeasures System (CIRCM).
Asked about a competing offer by Raytheon, with its Quiet Eyes laser-turret assembly, Palombo noted that Northrop Grumman demonstrated its Viper laser with the Quiet Eyes system four years ago under a U.S.Air Force contract. “We demonstrated we can operate with Quiet Eyes,” he said, adding, “we remain by far the leader in self-protection on airplanes.”
Northrop Grumman and Selex Galileo also signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday to offer an export countermeasures system to “an International DIRCM system that can be sold and deployed without restriction.”