Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system, chosen by the US Air Force to protect its transport aircraft from the threat of heat-seeking missiles, has successfully completed live missile fire tests and has entered low rate initial production.

"The LAIRCM system has passed another milestone on its way to safeguarding the Air Force's fleet of C-17 and C-130 aircraft," said Bob Del Boca, VP, Infrared Countermeasures and Laser Systems, at Northrop Grumman's Defensive Systems Division. "The fact that the live-fire tests were completed only weeks after laser effectiveness testing is evidence of the determination of the LAIRCM team to offer this invaluable level of protection to Air Force transport flight crews as quickly as possible."

"We leveraged our system off Air Force Special Operations Command's Directional Infrared Countermeasures system and added the Viper™ laser to protect larger aircraft and provide growth for more capable emerging missile threats," said Col. Mike Cappelano, Air Force LAIRCM program director. "This saves the Air Force approximately $75 M and completes the first phase of the LAIRCM program, 22 months faster than originally planned." The favorable milestone-C low rate initial production decision for LAIRCM was passed on August 22. "The successful milestone-C allows us to buy the first four LAIRCM production ship sets for installation on four additional C-17 aircraft," Cappelano said. The LAIRCM system is a laser-based, next-generation system employing many of the elements that are common with Northrop Grumman's AN/AAQ-24 (V) NEMESIS system currently in use by the military in both the US and the UK. The AN/AAQ-24 (V) NEMESIS protects large fixed-wing transports and small rotary-wing aircraft from the infrared missile threat by automatically detecting a missile launch, determining if it is a threat and activating a high intensity countermeasure system to track and defeat the threat. The LAIRCM next-generation system introduces new improved capabilities, including an all-band laser subsystem. During the live-fire tests, the LAIRCM system was mounted on a cable car equipped with heat sources representing a C-17 signature, which was used as a target for surface-to-air infrared-guided missiles. Live missiles were then launched against this target from inner-, mid- and outer-ranges, across the missile's "high probability of kill" envelope. In each of the tests, the LAIRCM system was fully autonomously operated and had no prior knowledge of threat type or location. The system had to detect and declare the threat missile, then allocate the jamming assets required to defeat it. As a further test, two of the live-fire missions involved multiple missile engagements. During these engagements, the system successfully recognized that it had eliminated one threat and then reallocated its resources to defeat the other threat.