Major Program for U.S. Aircraft Self-Protection Gets Rolling

by Andrew Dardine, Senior Aerospace and Defense Analyst, Forecast International.

With the recent, seemingly minor award of a $35.3 million U.S. Army contract to Northrop Grumman for engineering and manufacturing development and low-rate initial production for the Common Infrared Countermeasures (CIRCM) program, one of the most important and potentially lucrative aircraft self-protection efforts is finally moving from the planning stage to production. Based on the enormous size of CIRCM requirements, the five-year value of the program, combining RDT&E and procurement, could easily exceed $1 billion.

The CIRCM program aims to develop a laser-based, infrared countermeasures solution to protect aircraft from infrared guided missiles and Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADSs) and other heat-seeking weapons. CIRCM will initially be used on U.S. Army AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, as well as small tilt-rotor and fixed-wing aircraft. According to the Pentagon, the CIRCM program will also act as the sole acquisition channel for future laser-based IR countermeasures systems for all rotary-wing, tilt-rotor, and small fixed-wing aircraft across the Department of Defense.

The program intends to replace older, heavier Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures systems with lighter, modular systems that would allow CIRCM capabilities to be easily swapped from one aircraft to another, depending on the mission. CIRCM systems would interface with missile warning systems to provide near-spherical protection of host platforms.

In 2010, the U.S. Army issued an initial Request for Proposals for the CIRCM program. Among those responding were Northrop Grumman, Exelis (then ITT), Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. BAE Systems was also a major contender throughout the program’s development.

In the FY16 defense budget, $412.5 million is set aside for CIRCM RDT&E through 2020. The production and deployment phase with First Unit Equipped status is planned for the third quarter of FY19. A full-rate production decision review is also planned at that time.


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