Regional Threats Drive Leonardo's Miysis DIRCM
The announcement may not have made huge headlines, but that should not diminish its significance. When Leonardo confirmed, during last year's Farnborough Air Show, that it had sold its Miysis DIRCM (directed infrared countermeasures) system to an undisclosed Middle Eastern customer, the company was implicitly underscoring the changing nature of threats in the region.
"It is acknowledged now that there is instability in this region, and there are many challenging, but known, threats that need addressing," says Tony Innes, the company's vice president of sales for its radar and advanced targeting division, based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
"As the threat level increases, what we're seeing for end users is increased levels of operational risk," he continues. "This is exacerbated by the MANPADS [man-portable air-defense systems] threat, because, by definition, they're portable so it's very difficult to accurately determine where they are. Or, more worryingly – certainly within the last 10 years – who has them; and who has both motive and opportunity to use those missiles."
Small, difficult to detect when not in use, and capable of being deployed with a considerable degree of latitude by their users, MANPADS represent a challenging threat for anyone operating an aircraft in a contested area. DIRCM systems are a potentially powerful response but have tended to be restricted to larger platforms because of high weight and power requirements. Miysis is smaller and lighter, so it can be installed on platforms with as little onboard real estate as helicopters or UAVs.
DIRCMs offer a far greater capability against MANPADS than traditional flare-based systems, Innes says, both due to the systems' speed of response, and the ability to be activated multiple times in succession if necessary. Both factors are becoming more urgently required given the way tactics for using MANPADS are changing.
"If you're using countermeasure flares, there's a need to ensure the level of false alarms is as low as reasonably practicable," he says. "If it's a false alarm, and you dispense flares, then very quickly you may run out. The system needs to gain confidence that it has detected a missile and not a false alarm, and that confidence is gained over time – while the missile is coming toward the airplane.
"What we're seeing," he continues, "is that there are certain groups who have worked out that one way of defeating a flare-based system is to fire two MANPADS at the same time at the same target. The principle there is that the first MANPAD will be detected and countered by the flare-based system, but the second will go undetected and therefore will not be countered – so it hits the airplane with the intended result, in terms of platform loss and loss of life. There are examples of this, unfortunately, on YouTube."
During the DSEI show in September, Leonardo announced that Miysis had been bought by the UK defense ministry as part of a platform-protection upgrade for the Royal Air Force's fleet of Shadow R1 surveillance aircraft. The largely classified Shadow is based on a modified Beechcraft King Air platform, a fact that helps underline Miysis' applicability to smaller aircraft. Yet despite this integration onto a host-nation military airplane, Leonardo has ensured Miysis is exportable – a rarity for DIRCM systems.
"Historically, DIRCMs have been regarded as differentiating war-fighting capability, and that capability has been constrained by governments to prevent it being shared outside of head-of-state protection for the rest of the world," Innes says. "Leonardo acknowledged and recognized that constraint, which is why we developed the Mysis DIRCM system using internal funding. It has specifically been designed and developed to provide persistent and dependable enhanced platform protection to the rest of the world market."
The company does have to go through standard UK export clearance procedures, but Innes argues that the extant contracts suggest approval can be reasonably accurately predicted.
"The only government we need approval from to export the system to operational end users is the UK government," he says. "The fact that we already have a customer in the Middle East demonstrates that the system is available. We're working with a number of other Middle Eastern customers – and those customers are fairly confident, given our track record and with the support of the UK government, that the systems will be exportable to them."