As technological progress leads to the emergence of more and more effective missiles, then anti-aircraft defenses must also be developed, capable of dealing with such a sophisticated threat.
Man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) are often associated with terrorist and rebel groups. However, the armed forces of many countries today pay special attention to the development of these weapon systems.
Systems like the American FIM-92 “Stinger” complex and the Russian 9K333 “Verba” are ideally suited to combat slow-flying aircraft, such as helicopters. However, according to Douglas Barry, a senior fellow at the British International Institute for Strategic Studies, they have natural limitations.
"First, you should be able to lift a rocket on your shoulder, and second, thrust weapons you have limited starting tube diameter. Therefore, MANPADS will always be relatively short-range systems. ”
Looking for improvements
As Barry noted, these restrictions are mainly related to the design; neutralization of targets at large distances is a prerogative of other systems. However, he confirmed that the range of MANPADS in recent years "has consistently increased." He is echoed by Justin Bronk, a senior researcher at the British Royal Defense Research Center: "Obviously, you are limited by the size of the missile you can use in MANPADS, because a person must carry it, which limits the range at which you can hit the target." This distance, most likely, will not increase much in the coming years and is due to the fact that “in order to hit a moving target, you need to deliver a rocket to it with sufficient maneuverability and at the same time keep the MANPADS portable”.
In recent years, there has been a technological breakthrough in other areas. Particularly noteworthy is the progress of the homing heads (GOS) of rockets, because they have gone from "fairly simple infrared systems that worked in only one range to more functional systems, some of them work with infrared and ultraviolet spectra."
“As the GOS improves, it becomes increasingly difficult to deceive or disrupt work by using infrared traps,” explained Barry, referring to the common countermeasures that the aircraft shoots to protect against MANPADS. “You can see this active / reactive path of development when, in response to the improvement of countermeasures, the GOS developers also improve their systems.”
Bronk also noted the emergence of multichannel optical seeker. “Instead of traditional infrared GOS, optical homing systems appeared today that combine the near-IR region of the spectrum, the middle IR region of the spectrum and ultraviolet ... manufacturers are trying to bypass false thermal targets by any means.”
The market is also a witness of how infrared targeting takes place in favor of the laser, when the target is illuminated and the head is guided by the reflected laser beam. “In a sense, this technology is much more difficult to fool using standard countermeasures,” said Barry. “It has its limitations, but as far as deception or jamming is concerned, the task here is much more difficult and nontrivial.”
Calculation from the 3 th battalion of the Air Defense Forces launches the FIM-92 Stinger ground-to-air missile
On the market, we can see a variety of MANPADS, both simple and advanced, such as, for example, the Saab RBS 70 NG (New Generation). “One of the most notable stages in the development of the system was the introduction of an automatic tracking function,” said Fredrik Asbrink, head of technical support for air defense systems at a Swedish company.
“It facilitates the work of the operator, since now the system itself is leading the rocket to the target. Due to the fact that the accuracy of the target tracking machine is higher than that of an operator with manual guidance, the striking capability of the system has increased, we, in fact, thanks to the excellent stability of the tracking device, have been able to increase the range of the missile. ”
However, Asbrink explained that Saab always kept a person in the control loop. The tracking automat works as a support system, allowing the operator to provide manual support or, if necessary, switch to manual guidance mode. “This gives the customer excellent flexibility and is particularly important in supporting civilian authorities, for example, providing air defense at public events,” he added.
The RBS 70 NG fires a BOLIDE rocket, which is used for all types of targets, ranging from ground targets, airplanes and helicopters to small targets, such as cruise missiles and UAVs. The newest version of the complex has a built-in high-resolution thermal imager.
At the moment, the operator's RBS 70 MANPADS club consists of the 24 operator, the last of which was Brazil, which bought the complex in 2014 year. After these complexes participated in the defense of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the country ordered some more of these systems.
“When working in urban space, you need to control everything,” said Asbrink, which is why Saab keeps the operator “in the control loop until the end of the target neutralization cycle”. However, as Asbrink noted, the revival of traditional symmetrical scenarios contributes to the growth of interest in such anti-air systems of ultra-small range, such as, for example, RBS 70. “In general, many anti-aircraft complex operators have outdated systems in service, but, wanting to keep up with the times and comply with the old and new scenarios, they are re-investing in air defense.”
The next step of the company will be the installation of a RBS 70 NG combat module on a vehicle. This will give "the operator the opportunity to fully integrate the system into their mechanized units, to provide anti-aircraft support for any method of operational deployment, including in motion."
“The main incentives are mobility, flexibility and short reaction time. We look at today's and tomorrow's system-level threats. Technology is a huge driving force, but we are making every effort to ensure that the weapons, sensors, communication and control systems work as one unit in order to successfully accomplish the combat mission, ”Asbrink continued.
Saab is currently promoting its modified RBS-70 MANPADS with automatic tracking.
The development of threats
Due to the development of technology, the potential threats that MANPADS need to fight have changed in recent years. When designing its system, Saab took into account the extensive use of UAVs and cruise missiles and, as a result, integrated a thermal imager and auto tracking function into the RBS 70 NG complex, which allows the operator to determine the location of small targets and track them even at a distance of more than 20 km. “The remote fuse in the BOLIDE rocket is designed to detect and neutralize even these small targets,” explained Asbrink.
According to company representative Dave Buckley, in recent years along with the development of threats, the FIM-92 Stinger complex from Raytheon has also developed. What was, in fact, the armament of the Cold War era has undergone significant changes, not least due to the massive proliferation of small-sized UAVs, which are often very difficult to track.
“Many rockets, such as the Stinger, are looking for a source of heat to track the target. The amount of heat generated by the UAV, especially those that run on batteries, is very, very minimal. ”
“And here the developers are faced with a number of very difficult tasks,” he said. - Our rocket is very accurate, but it is designed to deal with helicopters and objects the size of an airplane. As for a small-sized target, here we could get very close to it, but sometimes we can just fly past it. ”
As in the case of the Saab BOLIDE rocket, Stinger is now equipped with a proximity fuse to solve this problem. It is triggered when the sensor detects that the rocket is near the object.
“So now we have very good opportunities in neutralizing what we call traditional targets - jets, helicopters and cruise missiles,” continued Buckley. - We could not provide a high probability of hitting a UAV from the first shot. But with the addition of a remote fuse, the probability of hitting and accuracy became equal to the same indicators for larger aircraft. ”
Raytheon has also refined the software of the complex in order to increase its capabilities in the fight against new targets and countermeasures. “As the threats evolve, and it’s getting harder to hit targets, we made additions to our program in order to counteract the enemy’s intentions and make our system more effective,” said Buckley, adding that there are several other planned developments, have not yet matured. "
As Buckley noted, after reducing its presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American army began to attach particular importance to air defense. In this regard, Raytheon has launched several upgrading programs for the Stinger complex, including the addition of a modern sighting system that enhances the capabilities of the operator.
“At the moment, the complexes are limited to human vision. We will give them advanced aiming systems to see further and define targets as ours or others, which will help them to fight at great distances. I think we will reach this milestone in the next couple of years. ”
As an example, he cited the FGM-148 Javelin MANPADS, developed by Raytheon in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. The Javelin sighting system, the Command Launch Unit, includes a small screen installed in front of the operator that identifies the target. “It's just like watching a small TV. The operator can direct a missile at him directly at the target. "
The company wants to apply the same technology in the Stinger complex. “We are integrating a sight, in which the operator will have a small screen, on it the operator will be able to see everything that the homing head sees and identify the target. As soon as the target is within reach, you can capture it and see how the rocket flies to the target, added Buckley. - The complex will be light enough to carry it on the shoulder. I believe that in the near future, the operator of MANPADS will receive these visual possibilities and opportunities for target recognition. ”
Buckley also voiced plans to further integrate the operator into a wider network. Early warning radars will determine the location of the threat over a greater distance before transferring information to the operational control sector, which is determined by its own or enemy. Information about the target will then be transmitted to the launcher - in the case of MANPADS to the individual soldier - who will then see the data on the screen, for example, detailed information about the target, the angle of guidance, etc.
“The sequence of starts will be shorter than it is today. Instead of viewing the sky through binoculars and a simple visual inspection, the network will direct the operator directly to the target within a few seconds, rather than a few minutes. ”
“As soon as a soldier gains the ability to see further, then immediately there is a need for systems with a corresponding increase in range,” noted Buckley, citing his own experience of serving in the American army. “We used to say:“ If I see a goal, I want to reach it. ” Roughly speaking, if optics can see on 8-10 km, the soldier wants to have a rocket that will fly on these 8-10 km. ”
Therefore, developers, experiencing constant pressure, seek to ensure the coincidence of the capabilities of optics and missiles. “There may be some kind of inconsistency when you see further than a rocket can fly, or a rocket can fly farther than you see,” he explained. “We have to combine and synchronize all this, in other words, if you see it, you have to get to it.” I think the evolution of MANPADS will go exactly in this direction. ”
The mini-MUSIC system from Elbit Systems is designed to counter the advanced homing capabilities of modern MANPADS
Reaction and response
According to the manager of business development at BAE Systems, Tom Kirkpatrick, between manufacturers of missiles and countermeasures a "game of cat and mouse" is being conducted. This company produces a number of solutions in the field of countermeasures, including the AN / AAR-57 missile launch warning station, the AN / ALQ-212 advanced guidance system for IR guidance systems and the ALE-47 automatic target emission gun. “Missile manufacturers are always improving their missiles in order to increase their lethality, and we, as producers of countermeasures and designers, must comply with these improvements.”
According to Kirkpatrick, in recent years, rockets have come a long way in their development. If the earlier versions were searching by thermal infrared signature, today they integrate complex technology that allows you to ignore heat traps. "Missiles use every available type of resource to make sure no one counteracts them."
This class of weapons has not only become more technologically advanced, it has now become very common and therefore represents a serious threat developing from two directions. “Rockets are becoming more and more popular, they are becoming more lethal, so we must easily and simply destroy them, and it doesn’t matter where the plane flies,” says Kirkpatrick.
This means that developers of countermeasures must try to anticipate the direction in which rocket technology will evolve in the coming years. “We don’t want to be in a foolish situation, when the development of rocket technologies, which we have nothing to oppose, comes as a surprise. We are trying to keep up with the technological development of rocket technologies. ”
Kirkpatrick noted the continued development of homing heads, as the developers of countermeasures pay special attention to them. “Now everything is not so simple, this is not a basic infrared sensor. The “eye” of the rocket and the logic schemes that are integrated into it and which it uses to accompany the aircraft have become much more complex. More and more sophisticated technologies are being used in the fight against countermeasures, they are becoming smarter, overcoming the known countermeasures placed on the aircraft. ”
The wide distribution of MANPADS, in addition to government structures chosen by terrorists of all stripes, makes it necessary to equip even commercial airliners with various systems to combat them
“The purpose of countermeasures is to meet the challenges of the future,” said Dan Slasky, a spokesman for Elbit Systems, who developed the Multi Spectral IR Countermeasures (MUSIC) system.
“Our system is reliable, it was designed with an open architecture so that you can quickly and easily carry out upgrades. They are periodically updated depending on the development of threats. ”
Elbit has noted a significant increase in demand for the MUSIC system, especially for assault and attack helicopters, tankers and transport aircraft, as well as targeted infrared countermeasures, especially for the VIP market.
“If in the past customers were not really aware of the threat or the level of the threat, today we see a huge interest in systems because of an understanding of the real situation and the inevitability of the threat,” he said. - MANPADS easy to prepare and apply. This is our big headache. ”
In the future, Barry expects that the GOS will become more intelligent and difficult to detect. “You have an active-reactive concept, when one side reacts to the other, and then the other side reacts again. As active protection systems become more functional and more advanced, GOS technologies are again reaching a new level, developing in order to overcome active protection systems again. ”
Bronk noted that short-range laser systems, as countermeasures, are rapidly developing, and high-power lasers can damage the rocket’s optics or blind it for a period of time that will allow an evasive maneuver. He also expects the growing interest of the armies of many countries in the actual systems of MANPADS.
“MANPADS are often viewed as a kind of terrorist weapon, but in fact the latest developments are aimed at supplying the armed forces,” he said. “I believe that most armies have an understanding that little attention was paid to the anti-aircraft defense for a period of time. We need to invest more, specifically in the development of MANPADS in order to feel confident in the future. ”
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