Airbus Helicopters is working on a concept to add an obscuration system to the H145M utility military helicopter to provide an added level of protection during critical battlefield operations. This kind of system is already deployed to protect battlefield vehicles, but as far as is known Airbus is the first to propose it for helicopters.
The company outlined the scheme, which has already undergone feasibility trials, during a November 4 media briefing at Airbus’s Donauwörth facility in southern Germany. The system deploys from dispensers distributed around the helicopter, rapidly creating a “fence of fog” around it. The smokescreen not only obscures the vehicle from visual sight but also has infrared-screening properties.
The system is intended to provide added protection during operations such as fast-roping or landing special forces in contested drop zones, when the helicopter is temporarily stationary, either on the ground or in the hover. The use of the system would, by definition, also obscure the visibility of the helicopter crew and could be safely employed only if the crew has sufficient enhanced and synthetic vision systems to operate in DVE (degraded visual environment) conditions.
To assess the feasibility of the concept, Airbus has conducted tests using the Rheinmetall ROSY rapid obscuring system that is deployed on land and marine platforms. In the trials the ROSY was fired from the ground while an H145M flew into the fog screen and hovered within it. The trials concluded that the screen maintained a good level of protection for a sufficient duration to offload troops, before it was dissipated by the helicopter’s downwash. Airborne tests will be undertaken to further assess the system’s effectiveness on rotary-wing platforms.
The obscuring system is one of a number of improvements under active consideration for the H145M, others including the addition of radar warning receivers to the current missile warning sensors to add electronic protection to the defensive suite. Furthermore, the H145M is likely to gain heat-diffusing exhausts that deflect the hot gases upwards into the main rotor wash to reduce infrared signature. The company has also conducted manned-unmanned teaming trials using an H145M working with a Schiebel S-100 Camcopter and is due to undertake a second round of trials soon.
Airbus expects to certify the five-blade main rotor upgrade for the military H145M in the second quarter of 2021, a year after its H145 civilian counterpart, and future orders will all be of this configuration. It reduces weight, increases performance and payload, and reduces vibration levels thanks to a hingeless main rotor. The five-blade system is available as a retrofit, with a 220-hour/15-day downtime to complete the upgrade.
Since the helicopter gained EASA certification in May 2015, Airbus Helicopters has sold 51 of the H145M military version, including 15 for launch customer Germany, which employs the type on special forces support duties. The Royal Thai Navy ordered five for maritime special operations, while Serbia has bought the H145M for its air force (six) and police (three). Hungary has ordered 20, and Luxembourg two. Those for Hungary and the Serbian air force are equipped with the HForce weaponization kit. As of November 2019, 24 had been delivered, including all the German and Thai orders.