FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. -- Army aviation is predicated on close air support, short-range transportation, surveillance and search and rescue. The term "defense" plays little part in aviation doctrine with the exception of defending ground forces. However, it's the defensive systems located within fixed and rotary winged aircraft that allow its crews to accomplish their primary mission while operating in a combat zone.

In boxing even the most explosive puncher has to be leery of a cunning fighter who can attack with just the right amount of finesse to render them unconscious. This is the same theory behind the threats that Army aviators are faced with in the ongoing Global War on Terror. With Man Portable Air Defense Systems serving as a prime threat to U.S. aircraft, it is vital that the aviation community is provided with technology that will keep them one-step ahead of a cunning enemy.

Since the inception of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, Aircraft Survivability Equipment systems have moved into the forefront for senior leaders in terms of added emphasis for upgraded systems and new technologies.

"The focus on ASE was increased based on enemy tactics, techniques and procedures," Col. Kennedy Jenkins, program director for ASE, based at Redstone Arsenal, said.

Following the loss of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to an enemy missile in November 2003, then acting secretary of the Army R.L. Brownlee called for a plan "to equip all our helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan with the most effective systems we have in development or procurement." In response to this challenge, Common Missile Warning System/Improved Countermeasure Dispenser production was immediately accelerated.

"The enemy's use of certain types of threats and capabilities necessitated the CMWS be added to the ASE suite that was then on aircraft," Jenkins said. "The Common Missile Warning System defeats MANPADS; as it warns the crew that a missile has been launched at their aircraft. Because of its effectiveness, CMWS has given pilots an increased sense of security knowing they aren't going to get shot out of the sky by a MANPADS missile."

This added system not only allows for additional security but also offers the pilot the benefit of being autonomous. Aircrews do not have to divert attention from their primary mission in order to counter a MANPADS threat.

Improving on the CMWS system is a key reason a fifth sensor was recently added. The additional sensor gives Army pilots more flexibility in their mission profiles. Today more than 500 aircraft are deployed in Southwest Asia with fully operational CMWS/ICMD systems that have flown more than 551,000 hours in the combat theater. Since CMWS' initial deployment, the system has consistently freed pilots up from distractions caused by threats they encounter flying through potentially hostile territories.

"We have many reports of pilots having been saved by their CMWS after a missile is fired at them. CMWS detects the missile, deploys flares, and pulls the missile away from the aircraft," Jenkins said.

The benefits of the system for aircrews that have utilized it in combat are evident.

"CMWS does reduce the immediate reaction workload of responding to a missile threat. This also enables the crew to react faster to destroying the threat on the ground," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Pat Shores, aviation branch tactical operations officer, Directorate of Training and Doctrine, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence.

"I think the bad guys are finding out the hard way that shooting a missile at Army aircraft is a lose-lose situation for them. They have an extremely low probability of a hit, and due to the CMWS and similar systems, they also have a high probability being detected and destroyed after the shot," added the UH-60 pilot who flew with 4th Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Echoing the thoughts of Shores, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jim Massey, Tactics Development, TACOPS Branch, Tactics Div. DOTD, USAACE, a AH-64 pilot who flew with 1st Calvary Division, during OIF added, "CMWS provides risk mitigation for the threat systems it was designed to defeat allowing aircrews to focus more intently on the mission at hand rather than solely on threat avoidance."

On the top of the current agenda for the PD ASE, which is a part of the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, is the Army Acquisition Category 1 program, Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures.

The ATIRCM will function with the CMWS to provide aviation assets the ability to focus on their mission while the system protects the aircraft. Mission effectiveness will be enhanced due to the combination of alert and defeat functions of the system which necessitate little to no deviation or needed action by pilots.

ATIRCM consists of a laser that will direct energy on a missile and force it to break away from an aircraft.

"They are an integrated system and it has always been the intent to field those two together," Jenkins said. "The CMWS is the eyes of the system and the ATIRCM is the sword, or active countermeasure of the system."

PD ASE is also offering added security to pilots through the rejuvenation of legacy systems. The APR-39 radar warning receiver has been on board aircraft since the early 1990s. "For what it was capable of during the time it was fielded it was the most modern radio frequency warner in the inventory," Jenkins said. "This upgrade will take into account variables like the types of threat present and where you are flying, so that you will be able to make changes to the system accordingly."

Part of the PD ASE future plans include addressing size, weight, and power issues, which naturally arise any time a new piece of equipment is added to Army aircraft. PD ASE is moving toward an integrated ASE suite that will be able to defeat all threats regardless of airframe or mission. The integrated ASE system will "fuse the functions of all onboard sensors and provide the input to a 'brain' or ASE controller - based on the type of threat the appropriate ASE system is then activated," Jenkins said.

Current ASE systems are federated and have their own dedicated display and warning. The intended purpose of the integrated ASE is that there will be just one system for the users to operate. The pilot flying an aircraft will hear the same voice or only has to look at one display to get all ASE information.

"Protecting the people that protect the nation" is the purpose that ASE serves, according to Jenkins. As the future integrated ASE becomes reality for Army aviation it will continue to focus on war fighters' survivability while allowing them to concentrate on their primary mission. Smaller, lighter, interdependent systems will increase load levels and allow the focus to remain on the Soldiers.

Editor's note: Brandon Pollachek is public affairs officer for PEO-IEW&S
at Fort Monmouth.