PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Over the past several years, the proliferation of low-cost heat-seeking missiles has become a threat to United States military operations.
As these weapons become more accessible to terrorist groups and third-world nations they become the weapon of choice for attacking Army helicopters.
For more than 20 years, the Pyrotechnics Research and Technology Division at Picatinny Arsenal has been at the forefront in developing technologies to protect military aircraft against heat-seeking missiles, said Picatinny engineer Andrew Zimmer.
More than a year and a half ago Zimmer and Picatinny contractor Dr. Jay Poret began development of a radiometric trailer capable of measuring infrared signatures of aircraft countermeasure flares at long range.
Infrared heat-seeking surface-to-surface air missiles, commonly known as SAMs, are a major threat on the battlefield, said Poret.
To combat attacks from these missiles, flares can help pin-point the exact location from which they are being fired. Primarily the flares are fired from a rotary-wing aircraft.
Picatinny's new trailer will allow engineers to track the flares, which in turn can help engineers design more effective countermeasure solutions.
"Flares are the Army's main line of defense against missiles," said Zimmer.
A heat-seeking missile works on the principal that all aircraft emit heat, mainly from the engines.
The missile-guidance system uses the infrared energy emitted by the aircraft to guide heat-seeking missiles to their targets.
Over time, heat-seeking-missile technology has evolved to better discriminate between targets and infrared decoys.
"As newer missile technology becomes available, the countermeasure technology needs to evolve to counter the newly emerging missile threats," said Poret.
To develop the next generation of infrared decoys and provide more accurate data on aircraft thermal signatures Poret and Zimmer developed a mobile infrared measurement system.
"There was a need to upgrade the Army's aircraft countermeasures research, development, test and evaluation capabilities to state-of-the-art levels," said Zimmer, explaining that the project began as an aid in designing new techniques for decoying emerging infrared threats and since then has grown to a $1.5 million equipment configuration that will help to fully characterize the infrared profiles of both the aircraft being flown, and the countermeasure flares that are fired.
Two 1-5 Micron infrared cameras, one 8-12 Micron infrared camera, an infrared spectrometer and a 4-band infrared radiometer, along with a tracking mount capable of following aircraft traveling at high rates of speed were all integrated onto a single trailer to increase the aircraft's survivability against infrared threats, Zimmer said.
The portable trailer houses both data collection and equipment control systems.
Additionally, Zimmer explained, the trailer can also tow the tracking mount, which makes the entire system fully portable, thereby allowing the system to be easily transported to test ranges and other remote locations.
The information gathered can then be used to update computer models that simulate missile to target scenarios and predict how well the flares are performing.
"Accurate models will allow the Army to rapidly develop more effective flare patterns and evaluate new flare formulations," said Zimmer.
The trailer was first deployed in May at Eglin Air Force base in Florida and was used to characterize the thermal signature of several Army helicopters and countermeasure flares.
Over two terabytes of thermal signature data was collected at Eglin using the equipment, Zimmer said, adding that it was just the first of many tests the Project Manager for Close Combat Systems plans to conduct to elevate the protection of Army assets from infrared threats to the highest levels.
Zimmer explained that ultimately the data obtained from the system will be used to develop better models and simulate missile to aircraft and flare interactions.
The system's potential has been positive so far, because according to Poret, based on the early success of this system, PM CCS provided an additional $500,000 to further enhance the system's measurement capabilities.