Advanced Tactical Aircraft Protection Systems Program awards contracts and wins NAVAIR award

A windfall of good news has come to the Advanced Tactical Aircraft Protection Systems Program Office in recent months, with their award of a production contract for one of their defense systems and receipt of a Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR) Commander’s Award for another.

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Advanced Tactical Aircraft Protection Systems Program awards contracts and wins NAVAIR award A Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra, with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron (MAWTS) 1, launches rockets at simulated enemy targets and deploys flares during a tactical demonstration in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor course 2-18 at Yodaville, Yuma, Ariz. (Picture source: US Marine Corps)

The program office, headed by Col. Tamara Campbell, is responsible for analysis, design, development, integration, testing, procurement, transition and sustainment efforts of aircraft survivability equipment (ASE) acquisition programs for fixed-wing, rotary-wing and tiltrotor aircraft defense. It is one with a well-established NAVAIR heritage tracing back to several program offices from the 1960s.

In the constantly evolving field of battle and the ever-changing challenges brought by adversaries, the program office focuses on developing ways to ensure warfighters have the ability to defend themselves while executing their missions and return home safely.

“We deliver affordable airborne defensive, electronic warfare self-protection solutions to enable the global warfighter success against an evolving adversary,” Campbell said. “We are ensuring that we can protect aircraft from enemy threats and missiles as they advance through enemy airspace and survive.”

The program office manages 20 programs on about 1,500 aircraft across 26 DoN type/model/series and 33 foreign military sales aircraft through three integrated product teams (IPT) (assault, common and strike) supporting the Naval Aviation Enterprise as well as joint and international partners.

“We’re also looking to potentially expand into protecting unmanned systems as well as protecting high-value assets,” Campbell said.

One of the “most sophisticated ASE” lines managed by the Assault IPT Team is the DoN’s Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (DoN LAIRCM) systems. In March, the Navy awarded a $115 million production contract to Northrop Grumman Corporation, with installation of the latest version of the DoN LAIRCM system scheduled for fleet aircraft in 2022.

The system enables aircraft to operate across battlefield threat conditions providing maximum aircraft and aircrew survivability. It defends against surface-to-air infrared missile threats using a high-intensity laser beam that automatically detects, tracks and jams the threat.

“The DoN LAIRCM is comprised of an infrared sensing system and a laser countermeasure associated with it,” said Dale Gaetano, Assault IPT co-lead. “It’s capable of seeing a threat that is shot at it and then defeating it through the use of the laser. It’s primarily used for larger aircraft like the C-130 [Greyhound] and the MV-22B [Osprey]; it has been deployed worldwide since 2009.”

Award Winning Program

AN/AAQ-45 Distributed Aperture Infrared Countermeasure (DAIRCM) is a newer system also managed by the Assault IPT. It is designed for smaller aircraft—such as an H-60 model helicopter—and performs the same function as the DoN LAIRCM.

The DAIRCM team received the Edward H. Heinemann Award during the 21st NAVAIR Commander’s Award ceremony March 31 for its accomplishments in improving, testing and fielding the device. The award recognized the team’s accomplishments throughout 2020.

“I could not be prouder of the DAIRCM team and their focus on supporting the DoN and all our partner services and agencies that utilize the DAIRCM JUONS [Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement] system to protect their aircraft at home and in harm’s way,” Campbell said. “Their hard work has enabled warfighter success with the ability to operate freely in and control contested battle space.”

In 2020, the team completed JUONS testing and improved DAIRCM system performance through multiple hostile fire indication, missile warning, laser warning and integration events. The JUONS system was fielded first on the HH-60G Pave Hawk with roughly 5,000 operational hours on all in-service
aircraft at time of receiving the Heinemann Award.

Following the test events, AN/AAQ-45 received operational test and evaluation accreditation and two fielding decisions, one by the Chief of Naval Operations Air Warfare (N98) for the Navy’s MH-60S helicopter, and the other by the Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps, Aviation for the Marine Corps’ UH-1Y and AH-1Z helicopters.

Additionally, the team awarded a $120 million engineering and manufacturing development contract to transition the JUONS to a Program of Record and field this capability on additional DoD aircraft.

ASE Across Multiple Product Lines

The Common IPT’s portfolio consists of numerous Air Expendable (active and passive) Countermeasures, Countermeasure Dispenser Systems and Electronic Warfare Tactical Training pods. This product team is also responsible for the Common Carriage effort, the program office’s newest Program of Record. It is a significant upgrade in terms of expendable capacity, dispenser system capability and broader platform commonality. Common Carriage is currently slated for carrier air wing fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft with plans to outfit Navy Tiltrotor and Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

The Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures Program is an ACAT IC program and the primary ASE effort residing in the Strike IPT portfolio. The system’s components include the ALQ-214 onboard jammer, the ALE-55 Fiber Optic Towed Decoy, and the ALR-67 Radar Warning Receiver, and provides detection to engage functionality for Navy and Marine Corps fixed-wing TACAIR. The Dual Band Decoy is a new Program of Record currently in development and is slated to replace the ALE-55. The Advanced EW Suite is an anticipated ACAT 1C Program envisioned to provide significant survivability upgrades for Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft against modern threat systems.

Pacing the Threat

Campbell and her team agree that the biggest challenge is keeping pace with threats to warfighters, and they look to the fleet to communicate these challenges back to the program office.

“We want [the fleet] to know that we’re not just happy with what we have right now. We want to make sure that we’re continuing to modernize and optimize our techniques, tactics and procedures in order to win wars tomorrow and make sure that we can provide that level of lethality to the force,” Gaetano said.

Campbell expanded on the need for interaction and engagement.

“We put a lot of emphasis on engaging with our community stakeholders: the fleet, our sister services, the science and technology community and our industry partners. It is important that we leverage all available means to gain the necessary technical edge so we can win tomorrow’s fight.”