Air Guard tests Northrop Grumman-built missile counter-measure prototype

The Air National Guard has begun installing a new prototype missile counter-measure device built by Northrop Grumman on aircraft at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich.

The Air National Guard has begun installing a new prototype missile counter-measure device built by Northrop Grumman on aircraft at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., the military service said Feb. 4. If tests on the prototype conclude favorably, as expected, the device could mean safer travels for KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft and additional job security for maintenance personnel at the base.

Working in conjunction with the KC-135 Systems Project Office at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., aircraft maintenance personnel at Selfridge began work in mid-January preparing a single KC-135 aircraft at the base for a prototype of the large aircraft infrared countermeasure (LAIRCM) system.

Following several weeks of preparation work on the aircraft, the LAIRCM pod, known as The Guardian, will be added to the aircraft and a series of tests will be conducted with the aircraft at an Air Force test range in another state, the Air Force said. An exact timeline on the testing project has not been publicly released, but the prototype testing is expected to conclude by late spring or early summer.

"This testing mission is important not only to the Air Force, but to our Army, Navy, Marine Corps and allied partners as well," Col. Michael Thomas, commander of the Michigan Air National Guard's 127th Wing and a KC-135 pilot at Selfridge said in the story. "The work being done by our Airmen on this project will have a direct affect on the future safety of not only aircraft, but the airmen, soldiers, sailors and marines aboard those aircraft."

The LAIRCM is specifically designed to defeat a portable, man-carried surface-to-air missile. While such missiles don't pose much threat when the KC-135 is refueling another aircraft at a high altitude, the tanker can be susceptible to such weapons while taking off and landing.

Initial testing of the LAIRCM began with the 190th Air Refueling Wing in Kansas in 2010, the service said. After making adjustments from that testing, a prototype of the system was created for the Selfridge tests.

The LAIRCM is a pod that can be attached to the external skin of the aircraft. The receiving aircraft has to be modified to have a receiving plate, an additional antennae and wiring inside the aircraft. Once the aircraft is prepped to be able to accommodate the LAIRCM pod, the pod would only be added to the aircraft - a procedure that only takes a few moments for a trained maintenance crew - on specific missions.

The system, said officials, was designed to be detachable from the aircraft to save on costs as a single LAIRCM pod could be attached and detached to multiple aircraft, as mission requirements change. The Air Force has not finalized plans on how many of the KC-135s in the fleet would be equipped with the necessary equipment to receive a pod. The Air Force has 167 KC-135s in the active duty fleet, 180 with the Air National Guard and 67 with the Air Force Reserve.

The LAIRCM is designed to continuously scan for any threats to the aircraft. If a missile is detected, it jams the incoming missile's guidance system using a laser beam, the Air Force said. The system does not require the aircraft pilot or another aircrew member to take action to eliminate a potential threat

The Air National Guard's LAIRCM test is taking place at the same time as a similiar prototype is being tested with a U.S. Navy C-40 Clipper cargo aircraft, the Air Force said.