The US Army disclosed details of its pathway to develop countermeasures to protect Army aircraft from surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles.
On Jan. 7, the Picatinny Arsenal press release stated that the U.S. Army is committed to improving aircraft survivability through the design, development and production support of countermeasures such as bait, chaff and flares that deflect enemy missiles.
Consumable countermeasures are a class of pyrotechnic and electronic warfare devices used to protect aircraft from guided surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. They are for single use and are dispensed from aircraft to provide the missiles with deception targets and to safely steer the missile away from the aircraft.
Currently, the Countermeasures and Flares Department at Picatinny Arsenal is developing strategies and designing consumables to protect Army aircraft by using bait to thwart incoming enemy missiles.
The aim is to provide solutions to combat legacy, emerging and future threats to the army, joint service and allied airmen.
The office is under the Pyrotechnics Technology Division, which is part of the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command known as DEVCOM, Armaments Center. This emerges from a press release from Picatinny Arsenal Public Affairs.
“For the past 12 years or more, James Wejsa, Head of the Pyrotechnics Technology Department, has done everything possible to integrate a modeling and simulation function into the company in order to better evaluate the products we manufacture and through the development cycle accelerating the evaluation of designs in a digital or “hardware in the loop” environment, “said Clinton Plaza, a computer engineer who works in the countermeasures and flares department at Picatinny Arsenal. Hardware in the loop refers to use of actual threat hardware or backup systems that may be available as countermeasures are developed.
“We can use either digital representations of missiles or actual threat hardware and evaluate digital representations of our countermeasures against them,” said Plaza. “It helps us better design countermeasures and get a better idea of what may and may not work throughout the development process and before we go to an operational test event.”
Before powerful computers became available, the main way to evaluate expendable countermeasures was to fly an aircraft, track it with the actual missile hardware, deploy consumables, and observe how the missile responded to the countermeasures deployed. This method is expensive, labor-intensive, time-consuming, and does not provide the agility required to protect Army Airmen from the ever-evolving threats.
The modeling and simulation laboratory for countermeasures has been in various phases of operation over the years. It only recently became fully operational, with significant facility renovations, including more workspace, and the addition of powerful computer systems to perform advanced threat analysis, models and simulations.
The development of expendable countermeasures can vary greatly depending on use and needs. An Army aviation organization can contact the Countermeasures and Flares Department and say that a new threat has emerged and ask if the department can offer a solution.
“We would collect whatever information we could have on this system, including hardware if we could, and try to incorporate that information into our modeling and simulation environment,” said Plaza. “When hardware acquisition is not an option, we use the information we need to create a fully digital model of the system. If we are unable to do this, we would find or develop something close enough, a substitute that we could use in its place. Now that we have our models and representation of threats, we can work on developing a countermeasure to defeat this threat system. “
This type of simulation of engagements can help to identify possible solutions. “Maybe we need a brighter flare, or maybe we need a larger flare – something like that – to add flaws to this threat’s ability to track our aircraft,” Plaza said.
Guided missile threats, which first appeared in the 1960s and have evolved over time, illustrate the technical tug-of-war between aircraft developers, missile developers, and the aircraft survival community.
A missile can be designed to look up the aircraft’s thermal signature in order to find its target and track what would be countered by throwing out flares that are even hotter to redirect the missile. Another type of missile could be developed to detect a particular characteristic of an aircraft flying through the sky. Therefore, a countermeasure is being developed to defeat a missile by mimicking this property. Sometimes another countermeasure can be to change the way that decoys, chaff, and flares are expelled from an airplane.
“Since that time, it has been an ongoing battle of what a missile developer can do to counter us and what we can do with our countermeasures to defeat this new advanced threat,” Plaza said.
If a possible solution requires new chemical formulations or strategies, the Countermeasures and Flares Department can turn to another division of the Pyrotechnics Department, the Pyrotechnics Research and Development Pilot Facility.
“We go up to them and say,” This is the kind of effect we’re looking for. Can you do something like this, and if you can’t, how can we take several countermeasures to make the scene that sees the threat look like what we see is successful in modeling and simulating? “Said Plaza.” That could mean taking multiple countermeasures, or one countermeasure with a different chemistry. Those are the types of things we’re going to discuss. You had to start over on some projects, but your amazing work enables us to to better combat these threats and to help the army, DOD and allied aviation become more viable. “
Plaza noted that the path to developing countermeasures may involve discussion and working with a variety of army organizations, each with specific expertise that plays a role in the survivability of aircraft and crew members. The Countermeasures and Flares Department works closely with the Close Combat Systems program manager who is part of the Armaments Office and Munitions of the Joint Program Executive Office at Picatinny Arsenal.
The branch also works with Army and Joint Service Organizations such as the Executive Office Aviation Program, the Aircraft Survivability Equipment Project Manager, which is part of the Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors Program, and the Center for Countermeasures, which reports to the Office Defense Minister, Director, Operation Test and Assessment.
But the collaboration doesn’t end there. The surface-to-air and air-to-air missile threat is a problem across the Department of Defense and the Allied Nations.
“There are many people in the US and in friendly countries who work in this field and offer a great knowledge base and collaborative environment,” said Plaza. “Fortunately, we got the chance to help and work with our friends in the Aircraft Survivability Community with some concepts and ideas we came up with, and they did the same for us.”