‘Skyshield’ – Counter MANPADS Laser Countermeasure Completes Testing

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C-MUSIC DIRCM pod installed on an IAF Boeing 707 tanker. Photo: IMOD

The Israeli C-MUSIC laser-based Directional InfraRed CounterMeasure (DIRCM) system has recently passed a major milestone, following the completion of a qualification test series, an essential part of the systems’ certification process. In 2009 the system was selected by the Israel Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Transportation to defend commercial airplanes operated by Israel’s three commercial airlines.

A C-MUSIC system has already been installed on one of ElAl Boeing 737-800 aircraft for testing. The system has also went through extensive testing phase installed on an Israel Air Force Boeing 707 flying tanker. Photo: Elbit Systems
A C-MUSIC system has already been installed on one of ElAl Boeing 737-800 aircraft for testing. The system has also went through extensive testing phase installed on an Israel Air Force Boeing 707 flying tanker. Photo: Elbit Systems

Designated ‘Skyshield’, the counter- MANPADS (man portable anti-aircraft missiles) system designed to protect civilian passenger planes from missile attacks completed full system acceptance test recently, meeting a major milestone after a long development that spanned over more than a decade. The recent test series involved the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) at the Ministry of Transport, the authority responsible for the civilian certification of the system.

The system developed by Elbit Systems employs a fiber-laser based DIRCM to defeat heat seeking anti-aircraft missiles. The laser consists of a compact fiber-laser that can effectively engage the seeker incoming IR homing missiles, thus deflecting such missile from their course. The Skyshield has been selected by the Israel Ministry of Transport to protect the civilian aircraft operated by all Israeli commercial airlines.

According to Brig. General Eitan Eshel, the head of R&D at the IMOD, the Skyshield test series was one of the most complex tests conducted in Israel. The test involved multiple engagements against targets simulating an aircraft protected by the system. The tests included a wide variety of threats that the SkyShield system would have to tackle in order to protect passenger aircrafts.

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C-MUSIC DIRCM pod installed on an IAF Boeing 707 tanker. Photo: IMOD
C-MUSIC DIRCM pod installed on an IAF Boeing 707 tanker. Photo: IMOD

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C-MUSIC DIRCM pod installed on an IAF Boeing 707 tanker. Photo: IMOD
C-MUSIC DIRCM pod installed on an IAF Boeing 707 tanker. Photo: IMOD

Compliance with stringent civil aviation safety regulations was part of the test, as the Skyshield is required civil airworthiness certification to comply with flight regulation in Israel and overseas. As such, the system proved the highest reliability, safety and compliance with the most stringent civil aviation regulations.

Two SA-7 missiles fired at Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa Kenya in 2002 and nearly missed the Boeing 757 airliner could cause devastating blow to Israel’s security. Luckily, the aircraft escaped unscathed, but the initiative that followed by the government to protect civil aircraft has stalled for six years. Eventually, the contract was signed in 2009, beginning the formal development process. The total cost of the system, including development, installation and support of operational systems is estimated at around $250 million. Elbit Systems, the prime contractor is providing the C-MUSIC system, a derivative of the MUSIC system, that has been protecting a number of military and VIP platforms for several years. The product line has recently been expanded to include larger and smaller aircraft as well the C-MUSIC, protecting civilian airplanes.

A contract for the installation of Skyshield systems on airplanes flying with ELAL has already been signed and first installation of the C-MUSIC system on one of the company’s Boeing 737-800 airplanes was completed. Additional tests were performed on an Israel Air Force Boeing 707 aerial tanker. Additional versions of the system could also be adapted to smaller regional civilian aircraft flying in Israel, particularly in the south of Israel, where they could be exposed to missile attacks from Sinai when descending toward Eilat. Egyptian Jihadist terrorists recently succeeded to down an Egyptian military helicopter in Sinai, using those MANPADs.[/wlm_ismember]

The proliferation of MANPADS has been a concern for many years. Terrorist organizations and narco cartels have gained access to such weapons worldwide. The supply of more advanced missiles has increased following the collapse of the Libyan army in 2011, and the availability of such weapons from alternative sources, including China and Iran.

According to a report published recently by the Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia has offered to deliver Chinese MANPADS to the Syrian opposition. The U.S. has long opposed arming rebels with antiaircraft missiles for fear they could turned against commercial airlines, in the region or around the world.

Unlike the permanent installation of infrared countermeasures on military aircraft and helicopters, commercial airliners do not carry such systems on every flight. Instead, the aircraft are installed with an ‘A Kit’ that includes all the necessary attachments, wiring and connections for the system. An add-on ‘B Kit’ that includes the entire system, will be installed on specific aircraft flying to destinations the national security agency consider to present ‘high risk’. Once installed on the aircraft and switched on, ‘SkyShield’ is programmed to protect aircrafts automatically, without posing any environmental or safety hazards. The systems will be provided to the airline companies as part of the government sponsored security envelope they already receive on their international operations.

The 'Skyshield' system comprises an installation kit installed on each aircraft destined to carry the system, and the complete DIRCM assembly contained in a 'gondola' shaped pod attached to the aircraft belly. The container has four IR sensors detecting the threat, imaging sensors for tracking and the laser emitter engaging the missiles. It is seen here installed on an Israel Air Force Boeing 707 tanker. Photo: IMOD
The ‘Skyshield’ system comprises an installation kit installed on each aircraft destined to carry the system, and the complete DIRCM assembly contained in a ‘gondola’ shaped pod attached to the aircraft belly. The container has four IR sensors detecting the threat, imaging sensors for tracking and the laser emitter engaging the missiles. It is seen here installed on an Israel Air Force Boeing 707 tanker. Photo: IMOD