New Laser Countermeasures Could Defeat RPGs

So, the U.S. Army has begun the process of choosing a new generation of laser countermeasures to protect low-flying military aircraft from 21st Century shoulder fired missiles. Current IR countermeasures found on Army helos aren’t effective against all types of heat-seeking missiles. Meanwhile, at about 200-pounds, the more effective, directional laser-based countermeasures like the AN/AAQ-24 are too heavy to install on smaller choppers like Black Hawk.

ITT gave DT a little heads up on the product their pitching in the contest. ITT’s system is lightweight, modular and built with open architecture software; features shared by most of the CIRCM competitors. This means it can be carried aboard smaller choppers like Black Hawks and easily upgraded and maintained. But the coolest thing about ITT’s product from DT’s standpoint is the fact that the company is pitching its potential (key word being potential) ability to counter what’s been the biggest threat to helos since Vietnam; low-tech RPGs and gunfire.

“We’ve built in a number of capabilities that are adjunct capabilities that come along and give us the possibility of defeating other threats and fulfilling other missions and one of those is hostile fire deterrent,” explained John Janis ITT’s chief engineer for CIRCM during an interview with DT. “In essence, what you do there is make it impossible for a human to observe your aircraft and aim his weapon at your aircraft by creating a distracting light source. That has been done in the past and is a proven technology and one that we can do out of the same apertures and out of the same system that we can do out of our infrared heat seeking missile countermeasures.”

Still, for this to work, the aircraft will need an automatic threat warning system similar to the ones that rapidly que DIRCM-style lasers toward incoming heat-seeking missiles.

“Those systems are in development,” added Janis.

To make such a system work, you’d have to accurately slave a laser to a system that can quickly detect the firing point of gunfire or man with an RPG.

Yet another potential feature of the system is the secure comms feature. Basically, the CIRCM could transmit gigabytes of data over lasers shot towards other aircraft of ground stations. Since laser beams are incredibly narrow compared to radio beams, they are far more difficult to intercept.

With “a radio signal you have a fairly wide spread for your beam and an interceptor only has to be somewhere in the vicinity to pick up and read that signal while with laser communications, for reasonable ranges, you really only paint the aircraft you’re” talking to with the laser beam, making the likelihood of intercept “nearly impossible,” said Janis.

“We’ve actually built a system that from a laser communications standpoint is exponentially faster than any [radio] link,” said Bob Ferrante, VP of ITT Electronic Systems during the same interview. “However, with lasers you do have environmental issues that impede it so this is a nascent technology.

The company is already working with the Naval Research Lab on a covert ship-to-shore datalink using this type of laser tech.

“Essentially by using the laser on the system and our back-end on the system, we can supplant or enhance any RF communications in a very secure manner; we’re talking gigabytes as opposed to megabytes per second,” added Ferrante. “Typically, you’re going to use that technology for high-resolution data streaming or if you want to insure that you’re not going to be intercepted.”

  • Greenish

    Gotta watch the slippery slope when pointing lasers at people’s eyes. Permanently blinding them would be a war crime.

  • blight

    Ironically, if the laser was powerful enough to kill it would be permitted. Not sure what kind of laser would be needed to dazzle a person’s eyes without blinding them permanently. What wavelengths of light would be appropriate?

  • brian

    Its funny how slow the military has been to develop Active Defense Tech. In the age of the missile, Active defenses are all you have since passive armor won’t scale to meet future threats. The Russians have had some form of Active armor on their tanks for 20 years, but we haven’t done anything but sit on our thumbs when perfectly good systems could have been deployed. Well I hope this works out, our troops need this tech

    • Will

      The manned ground vehicles of the FCS were, at 1 time, intended to rely on active defenses instead of passive armor. It’s the only way for a 19 tonne vehicle to stand a chance. They eventually decided that active defense systems weren’t far enough along that a vehicle didn’t need heavy armor as well. It must mean something that both the Russians & the Israelis have put their active defense systems on tanks – the vehicles that also have the heaviest armor.

      • brian

        I think the issue wasn’t whether the system worked, it did, its just that if there were civies around the vehicle when the shot was taken, they would be hurt by it as well. I am not sure I agree with the reasoning behind that, since the isreali’s have deployed a similar system, and I haven’t heard anything about related casualties from its use — though it may not have deployed yet in a hostile enviroment

        • Joe Schmoe

          Trophy has already shot down two ATGM’s in combat, a 100% success ration so far.

          • Joe Schmoe


    • Nmate

      Uh huh. We deployed ERA on the M60A3, I know they were using them in the first Gulf War. ERA is a stop gap or tertiary armor system at best. It’s fairly easy to defeat it with tandem warheads and specifically designed penetrators. Even heavy machine gun fire could likely set it off. Would you like your tank to loose a chunk of protection after being hit by Mk 211? The armor protection on all Western tanks (M1A1/A2, Leopard 2A5/A6 and Challenger 2) are far superior to anything you’d find on Russian tanks.

      • SJE

        ERA is definitely a problem with casualties to nearby people: civilians or troops.

  • Kevin

    How could it be possible to target someone who is aiming an unguided RPG at your aircraft? What technology, if any is available that can recognize a guy with an RPG on the ground short of having someone man the laser scanning for threats? At that point wouldn’t it be better to just shoot the potential attacker?

    • Will

      Absolutely. Once someone has shot an RPG at you, it’s too late. You weren’t going to hover in 1 place long enough for him to get off a 2nd shot to begin with. The laser might be useful against a machine gun or cannon, though.

      • blight2

        The more appropriate title would have been “New Laser Countermeasure Could Dazzle RPG operators”.

        We’ll probably need a “Joint Countermeasure System” that incorporates active defenses such as Trophy (or something like it), in addition to flares and chaff, plus the laser for blinding operators or burning out the CCD for IR-seeking systems.

    • joe

      Pick up the flare of a rocket launch and blow the thing on the tip of that flare to bits, I guess.

      You can’t pick it up until if fires, worryingly.

  • Lance

    Looks like the system will defeat MANPADS systems not unguided RPG-7s.

    • brian

      Sure it can, that laser can transfer energy to detonate the warhead early. If it can fry a manpad’s circuits, it can surely fry the detonator on an rpg7

      • Mat

        there i not much to fry on RPG a piezoelectic fuse that has to be crushed,Manpad on the other hand has a highly sensitive infrared sensor that could be blinded ,until the next gen manpad comes up with combined photo ir head like already used in some air to air missles that defense will be much harder.

    • Skysoldier173

      They are developing a system to defeat RPG’s. It was on TV not long ago. The system is mounted on roof.

  • Mount Laser on Bradleys, Abhrams armor, trucks, Hummers,
    & helos.
    or semi tractor trailers??
    Be awesome.
    Fire into target zone.

  • VikTor

    Heck yeah that’s some cool ****

  • Joe Schmow

    What’s so impressive about this system? Rafael and Elbit both have had these system for a while now, they even put them on the Israeli H-53s and H-60s (and probably F-15’s and F-16’s.)

  • J Hughes

    That was NOT an rpg! Why does D.T post articles/videos now with wrong headlines?!

    • Blight

      It’s a standard IR blinder that would also need a way to find targets out of a crowd and blind them. Manual operation?

      That said, this might be related to the old Yehudi light idea..


    Just saw a dazzler laser on TV Military Channel yesterday. It’s in the green band. Low level laser that doesn’t blind but puts out a light that has a width to blind several people in a group. It was in an show about the Secret Seervice and protecting the president.

  • jim

    nothing new here at all this has been on air force one for years.

    • blight

      It will be new for the troops then.

    • SJE

      There is a big difference between the cutting edge tech on AF1 and something that is mass produced for the troops.

  • SJE

    The laser would have to be pretty powerful to defeat an RPG. They have a short range, and so there is very little reaction time. They are dumb, so could there is no interference with IR seeking: gotta fry it. A shiny cone over the end of the RPG might be sufficient.

    Its probably even more of an issue with AA rounds, with a stream directed at the aircraft.

  • Skysoldier173

    I saw a test where an RPG was fired, the warhead was hit with some kind of laser, the rocket blew and no damage to Humvee. Lasers are reality.