Multitasking Threat Warner Promises Enhanced Helicopter Protection

 - September 12, 2011, 4:40 AM
Northrop Grumman advanced warning sensor (ATW) will replace current missile warning sensors, shown on either side of Laircm turret. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The U.S. Navy awarded a development contract to Northrop Grumman to upgrade the AN/AAQ-24 large aircraft infrared countermeasures (Laircm) system on CH-53D/E and CH-46E helicopters with a multifunction advanced warning sensor (ATW). This will add laser warning and small arms fire detection to currently fielded systems, providing awareness of a variety of threats.David Snodgrass, Northrop Grumman director of infrared countermeasures (IRCM) product development, said the ATW sensor will upgrade the current "uni-tasker" Laircm infrared missile warning system into a "multitasker" sensor, including laser warning and hostile fire detection capability. “There is an incremental improvement in the missile warner also," Snodgrass told AIN. "The laser warning capability and the hostile fire capability are big step functions. It’s a game changer for what they [the Navy] are doing.”The multifunction ATW evolved from Air Force-funded development of a two-color IR missile warning system that was used by the Navy in its Laircm system, and a Navy requirement to add laser-warning capability. Northrop Grumman funded its own development of a very high-speed camera that is capable of detecting small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the cause of the August 6 downing of a NATO CH-47 Chinook in Afghanistan. Prototype ATW hardware has been tested in live-fire exercises, most recently last month in a rotorcraft aircraft survivability equipment (RASE) demonstration sponsored by the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Under terms of the contract announced September 7, Northrop Grumman will deliver 24 ATW sensors and five processors for integration on CH-53s. The development contract runs through February 2013, and a low-rate initial production order would follow thereafter. The Navy eventually may upgrade sensors across the fleet of 132 Laircm-equipped CH-53s and CH-46s, Northrop Grumman executives said. “Given that real need in theater right now, we’re doing everything we can to get the final product fielded quickly,” said Carl Smith, v-p of IR countermeasures programs.