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Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures Program Earns Award

The Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures program was selected as
co-winner of the 2005 Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award.

By René Boston / Air Force Research Laboratory, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio, April 21, 2006 – The Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures program was selected as co-winner of the 2005 Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award.

The award was presented at the 2005 Defense Manufacturing Conference to the team behind the project, including Team Leader and Project Engineer Raymond J. Linville. 

This award recognizes the hard work and dedication of the Manufacturing Technology engineers of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, along with the Mobility System Wing and the support contractors involved from Northrop Grumman Corporation.

The Manufacturing Technology effort resulted in significant cost, production rate and reliability improvements that will be vital in protecting large aircraft from terrorist threat.

The Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award, approved by the Joint Defense Manufacturing Technology Panel and presented by Sue C. Payton, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Advanced Systems and Concepts), is the second award given for this effort.

In 2003, Linville was awarded the prestigious Air Force Science and Engineering Award in the Manufacturing Category, approved by Air Force Chief Scientist Dr. Alexander Lewis, due to his work in personally defining, leading and managing programs in support of Laser Eye Protection and the Viper(tm) Laser, which is one of the primary components on the countermeasures system.

The countermeasures system is designed to protect C-17s, C-130s, and other large aircraft from infrared-guided surface-to-air missile threats by automatically detecting a missile launch, determining if it is a threat, and activating a high-intensity directed laser beam countermeasure system to track and defeat the threat.

Large, slow aircraft with high signatures flying at low altitudes are prime targets for man-portable air defense missiles and need the protection Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures systems provide.

The Viper(tm) Laser provides energy on target to jam threat missiles. Manufacturing Technology and Northrop Grumman Corporation representatives believed costs could be reduced for the Viper(tm) by addressing manufacturing, maintainability, reliability, supportability and availability issues.

The insertion of Lean practices and principles increased yield and reduced touch labor costs, and design changes were made that reduced deficiencies and the number of assembly and adjustment steps for the electronic and optical components.

Finding more suppliers for high value electronics, optics and other materials created more competition and drove the cost down by substituting standardized components for the specialized ones.

Significant cost saving procedures implemented in the manufacture and assembly of the Viper(tm) Laser decreased the countermeasures system’s acquisition cost per C-17 by about 30 percent.

See Caption.
The Viper(tm) Laser is one of the primary components on the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures program, which was selected as co-winner of the 2005 Defense Manufacturing Technology Achievement Award. U.S. Air Force courtesy photo

Additional reliability and repair improvements resulted in less down time of the countermeasure system protected aircraft and an estimated $1.2 million to $1.8 million reduction in total ownership cost per aircraft.

Manufacturing improvements introduced by the effort during the first two years of the program allowed Northrop Grumman Corporation to dramatically improve the production yield, which increased the production rate of Viper lasers from two per month to 15-20 per month.

Design improvements resulted in a 30 percent to 50 percent increased input/output laser power efficiency, which increased energy output, threat missile jamming capability, mean time between failure, and aircraft survivability.

The reduction in acquisition cost makes it financially feasible to acquire more countermeasures systems and protect more aircraft. 

The benefit to the warfighter was almost immediate. Since the project allowed the contractor to ramp up production more quickly, installation schedules were accelerated by one year, enough time to allow Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures systems to protect C-17s and C-130s during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

If just one aircraft has been protected from a threat missile just one time because of this project, the return on the investment is immeasurable.

This effort will continue with improvements to the mini-pointer tracker turret, another major component of the countermeasures system. The turret tracks the target and directs the laser beam in the proper direction.

Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures system units are already in operation on several aircraft and will soon be installed on more than 20 different fixed and rotary wing platforms across U.S. military services and several allied countries.

The Department of Homeland Security is investing over $45M to evaluate a counter man-portable air defense system based on the Viper(tm) Laser and mini-pointer tracker turret for use on U.S. civilian airliners.

Each of these installations will benefit from the system and production improvements implemented under this Manufacturing Technology effort.

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