MACS Factor

UN helicopters assisting the UN’s MINUSMA effort in Mali will receive added protection thanks to the addition of Bird Aerospace’ MACS sensor.

Bird Aerosystems will install its MACS (Missile Approach Confirmation Sensor) on United Nations’ Mil Mi-8MTV1 medium-lift utility helicopters, the company announced via a press release on 5 August.

These helicopters will furnish the UN’s MINUSMA (Mission Multidimensionnelle Intégrée des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation au Mali/United Nations Multi-dimensional Stabilisation Mission in Mali). Shaul Mazor, Bird Aerosystems’ vice president of marketing and business development told Armada Analysis that these MACS self-protection systems will outfit Mil Mi-8MTV1 (NATO reporting name “Hip’) helicopters the UN is leasing from private contractors to support the mission. The threat from infrared-guided Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) is particularly apparent in Africa.

Mr. Mazor emphasises that “The MANPADS threat has become one of the most deadly and serious threats for military and civil aviation, with hundreds of aircraft being shot down in various places around the world. The UN has been using Bird’s AMPS (Airborne Missile Protection System) for various missions where the threat of MANPADS is immense, usually in areas where MANPADS have been fired on helicopters, or at least detected on the ground.”

The Malian theatre is no stranger to MANPADS. Since 2013 media reports and expert analysis from arms control think tanks has noted that MANPADS presumed to be from the arsenals of the former Libyan armed forces have proliferated into Mali following the end of the Libyan civil war in 2011.

According to a report published in April by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion, a research institute based in Bonn, western Germany, entitled MANPADs: A Terrorist Threat to Civilian Aviation? such weapons have ended up in the hands of insurgent groups such as the National Liberation Movement of Azawad and Al Qaeda. The report continues that these groups are thought to possess weapons such as KBM 9K32 Strela-2 (NATO reporting name SA-7 Grail) and 9K34 Strela-3 (NATO reporting name SA-24 Gremlin) infrared (IR) guided MANPADS.

The AMPS-MV forms part of Bird’s wider AMPS airborne self-protection system product line. The AMPS-MV is primarily intended to protect civilian aircraft against attacks by IR-guided MANPADS. The MACS is at the heart of the AMPS-MV. The former uses a radar to verify the incoming missile after it is alerted by optronics which detect the missile’s heat signature. The MACS confirms the threat which is then engaged using the company’s SPREOS Directional Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM). This blinds the missile’s own optronics sensor using a dual-band laser. The threat is continually monitored by the MACS which will also confirm the success of the engagement.

Mr. Mazor continued that the AMPS-MV installation will be performed in theatre: “There are almost no limitations on where the installation is done, as we are able to send our teams to either do the complete installation on-site, or supervise local teams that are doing the installations in different locations around the world. For this programme the installation will be in Africa, and Bird Aerospace will send its team to perform the installation on site.”

The AMPS series is no stranger to UN operations around the world: “Over the years the AMPS system has been deployed in UN missions in Iraq, Somalia, Mali, Chad and other challenging places.” The installation, Mr. Mazor added, is expected to be completed by the third quarter of this year, and will take around three weeks. Once this is done, “the helicopters will be released with the system operational and certified.”

by Dr. Thomas Withington