The Burning Question

Protecting large aircraft such as the A400M has become an increasing concern regarding the theatres in which such aircraft operate and the accompanying proliferation of IR-guided threats.

Etienne-Lacroix has announced it has commenced deliveries of its first serial production batch of LIR-120-A400M and LIR-121-A400M flares. These which will equip the Armée de l’Air’s (French Air Force) Airbus A-400M strategic turboprop freighter.

According to the firm’s official literature the LIR-120-A400M is a conventional Magnesium Teflon Viton (MTV) flare with a ten-year shelf life and two-year service life. MTV flares are suitable for protecting aircraft against legacy infrared (IR) guided missiles, particularly those fired by Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS). Such air defence systems remain a tangible threat.

Reports in early June stated that insurgents from the Syrian National Liberation Front were successful in damaging a Syrian Air Force Sukhoi Su-22M4 ground attack aircraft over the Idlib Governorate in northwest Syria. The aircraft had been fired upon using a MANPADS.

Etienne Lacroix’ new LIR-120-A400M and LIR-121-A400M IR countermeasures will help to protect the A400M against a range of contemporary and emerging threats.

The LIR-121-A400M, meanwhile, is a spectral flare which has a similar shelf and service life to its LIR-120-A400M counterpart. The company states that this flare uses spectral techniques to outfox new generation IR-guided threats. Unlike MTV flares, spectral flares produce a varied heat signature. This is because an aircraft does not retain the same heat signature across its airframe.

For example, the aircraft’s engines, and the areas closest to the engine’s exhausts will have a higher heat signature compared to areas closer to the nose or tail. New-generation IR threats possess counter-countermeasure techniques which can discriminate the bright uniform heat signature of an MTV flare from the varied heat signature of the aircraft. The architecture used by spectral flares is intended to outflank this counter-countermeasure.

An official from the company told Armada that it was witnessing interest in these flares from several other air forces flying the A400M. They added that these countermeasures were developed from the outset with this, and other large aircraft, in mind: “These flares have been specifically designed for the IR signature of the A400M. The IR output, colour ratio and other burning characteristics have been customised to offer the best possible protection for such a large aircraft.”

The official continued that the flares could protect the Boeing C-17B Globemaster-III strategic turbofan freighter: “These flares are not an off-the-shelf solution derived for the A400M, but new products providing the necessary performances to protect this large aircraft.”

Etienne Lacroix stated that the development of these new countermeasures were performed in conjunction with France’s Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA/General Directorate of Armaments) defence procurement agency: The flares were developed “in accordance with DGA specifications. (The) DGA funded the development and also long term studies regarding new technologies.”

by Dr. Thomas Withington