Il-76 military transport aircraft began to be fitted with the latest onboard defense systems that detect approaching missiles by their engine radiation. After detection, the onboard defense system activates interference or releases special decoys. The new product will increase the transport aircraft’s survivability in frontline and local conflicts areas, the Izvestia newspaper writes.

Il 76 aircraft to receive new onboard defense systems Il -76MD (Picture source: Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

All Il-76 transport aircraft in service with the Aerospace Forces will receive anti-missile systems. The aircraft reconfiguration started in the spring of 2019. The decision was taken following the study of using transport aviation in Syria, Defense Ministry sources revealed to the paper. Previously, such systems have already been received by the latest Il-76MD-90As and modernized Il-76MDMs.

The Il-76 is the main heavy transport aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces, used not only for cargo transportation but also delivery of airborne troops, the expert Anton Lavrov explains. "Large transport aircraft are extremely vulnerable in the air without dedicated defense systems," he said. "Notably, the transport aircraft often have to fly to frontline and local conflicts areas even in peacetime. Now, for instance, Il-76s of different models often carry cargoes to Syria where a probability of an attack from the ground is highly likely. Such machines are particularly vulnerable during take-off and landing, when they can be reached even by MANPADS (surface-to-air missiles). Initially, when the Syrian airbase Hmeimim was particularly close to the frontline, combat helicopters were scrambled to protect lightly vulnerable transport aircraft that took off or landed."

The new onboard defense system consists of a control system, sensors and ultraviolet radiation location and missile attack warning station plus a jammer and airborne pyrotechnic charges (thermal decoys) that mislead missiles guided towards the engine heat. The system sensors not only detect, but also determine, based on the ultraviolet signature, the type of the jet-propelled charge that approaches the aircraft. "Other countries use infrared sensors for detecting missiles. Those based on ultraviolet are our Russian knowhow," said the expert Dmitry Boltenkov. "The problem with infrared sensors is that they are extremely sensitive to different natural interferences. For example, heated air easily causes a faulty activation. There is no natural ultraviolet radiation in nature. It can only be man-made. Therefore, the ultraviolet sensors not only detect with high precision the approaching missiles, but also determine their types."

Depending on the situation, the electronic equipment will choose not only the required number of decoy charges, but also their dispensing pattern. Thus the new system can lead away from the aircraft missiles fitted with not only heat seeking but also radar homing heads.

Interestingly, the new system will help the Il-76 escape attacks of not only MANPADS, but also anti-guided missiles or air-to-air missiles.

For the first time the Soviet Air Force encountered the tough problem of protecting transport aircraft against air defense missile systems during the war in Afghanistan. In 1979-1989 around ten Soviet transport aircraft of different types were shot down there, most of them by the US-made Stinger MANPADS missiles.

Also there two Il-76s were lost in 1984 and 1990. Both machines were downed by mujahedeen near the Kabul airdrome.

The thermal decoys proved their efficiency for aircraft defense in Afghanistan. The new systems, developed with due regard to modern technologies, must seriously enhance flight safety, assures Lieutenant-General Valery Gorbenko, Hero of Russia, former Commander of the 4th AF army and air defense. "The first decoys appeared in Afghanistan following the use of Stingers," the expert said to the Izvestia newspaper. "At first, those systems were installed on Su-17 bombers and Su-25 ground attack aircraft and subsequently on An-12 transports. They were fired as the aircraft approached the landing area, becoming reachable by a MANPADS. Also then the methods of their effective use were developed. Employment of decoys was synchronized with air defense manoeuvring, i.e., transport aircraft approached the landing area from a high altitude and at a high vertical speed, simultaneously dispensing thermal charges.

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