Infrared Countermeasure (IRCM) Technology for Rotorcrafts and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)


Posted on April 21, 2022 | Completed on June 4, 2021 | By: Taylor H. Knight

What are the latest government and industry technology developments for infrared countermeasure (IRCM) systems?


The Defense Systems Information Center (DSIAC) was asked to identify the latest government and industry technology developments for Infrared Countermeasure (IRCM) systems, specifically for rotorcraft and unmanned platforms, with an emphasis on smaller integrated (size, weight, and power) systems. Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, and Elbit Systems were the front runners in emerging IRCM technology that has been used by multiple organizations in the U.S. Department of Defense. IRCM systems using lasers and smart jammers are being employed by the U.S. Navy, Army, and Air Force for rotorcraft use and small unmanned aerial vehicles. The most popular IRCM system is the common infrared countermeasure, which was specifically developed for U.S. helicopters and light fixed-wing aircrafts and designed to be lightweight and low cost.


1.0  Introduction

The inquirer is interested in recent IRCM technology developments, specifically for rotorcraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with an emphasis on low size, weight, and power (SWaP) systems and technology.

Defense Systems Information Analysis Center staff members searched open-source documents for recent IRCM technology developments. This research will benefit the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) by implementing it into an IRCM technology roadmap and giving it to the Joint Aircraft Survivability Program (JASP) to find gaps in the technology. JASP will also be looking to fund certain areas of this roadmap to grow DoD capabilities in unmanned and rotorcraft countermeasures.

Infrared (IR) guidance systems in heat-seeking missiles are designed to track strong sources of IR radiation, such as aircraft engines, thus helping missiles to identify their targets. IRCM systems are based on a modulated source of IR radiation, with a higher intensity than the target itself. When a missile seeker observes this modulated radiation, it interferes with the modulated signal from the aircraft and renders the missile incapable of maintaining a lock on the target. Recent developments in IRCM technology have allowed IRCM systems to be used on rotorcrafts and smaller UAVs.


2.0  Industry Technologies

The following companies (listed in alphabetical order) offer IRCM technologies for rotorcrafts and UAVs. Their research, news updates, and patents are also included.


2.1 BAE Systems

BAE Systems offers the AN/ALQ-144 IRCM Set, an always-on IR jammer that protects against IR missiles over a wide environmental range [1]. The system offers configurations that complement small- to medium-signature helicopters and can operate independently or cohesively with a missile warning system and flares. It is marketed as low SWaP, with the specs listed in Table 1.


Table 1: AN/A:Q-144 Variant Specifications

Size13.42-in Height

12.62-in Diameter
14.62-in Height

12.62-in Diameter
Weight26.5 lb28.5 lb
Power1,650 W1,650 W


2.2 Elbit Systems

Elbit Systems offers Directed IRCM (DIRCM) systems that integrate fiber laser technology with a high frame rate thermal camera and a small mirror turret [2]. Elbit’s DIRCM systems have been selected by the Israeli government, Italian Air Force, and Brazilian Air Force for aircraft protection. Also offered is a laser-based DIRCM system, Multispectral IRCM (MUSIC), designed to protect aircraft against heat-seeking, ground-to-air missiles. According to Elbit, MUSIC can be installed on a full range of military and commercial aircraft.

J-MUSIC is an advanced DIRCM optimized to protect large aircraft, while C-MUSIC employs a fiber, laser-based DIRCM technology originally developed for military aircraft and helicopters. Elbit also offers mini-MUSIC as a compact, lightweight DIRCM system ideal for small and medium rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. Mini-MUSIC weighs 19 kg, is 271 mm × 316 mm ×
449 mm, and consumes less than 1,000 W.


2.3 Leonardo Company

The Leonardo Company offers the Miysis DIRCM system for protection against IR-guided missiles and Man-Portable, Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS) missiles [3]. The system is compatible with multiple platforms, including having a low SWaP required for helicopters and UAVs. It is available as a fully integrated system or a podded solution, using open architecture designed to allow incorporation of Missile Approach Warners, and can operate autonomously or as part of a Defensive Aids Suite. The system weighs less than 16 kg, is 183 mm × 270 mm × 341 mm, and consumes 190 W (with a 535-W maximum).


2.4 Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman developed and now offers the Common Infrared Countermeasure (CIRCM) system for protection against shoulder-fired and vehicle-launched antiaircraft missiles that hone in on the heat signature of an aircraft [4]. The system is built on an open architecture that works with existing hardware and has a dual-jammer configuration that provides protection against IR-guided, antiaircraft missile threats. CIRCM also meets low SWaP requirements and is designed to protect rotary wing and medium fixed aircraft from IR missiles [5]. It uses a compact pointer/tracker, a commercial-off-the-shelf processor, and a quantum cascade laser.

Northrop Grumman also offers the Guardian, a pod-based IRCM, that provides a 360-degree protection against missile threats [5]. It includes a multiband laser pointer/tracker and an ultraviolet missile warning sensor. The pod can be almost entirely contained in a single pod mounted to the underside of a fuselage.

In 2021, the U.S. Army awarded Northrop Grumman a five-year, $959.1M indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for full-rate production of the CIRCM system [4]. The U.S. Army declared the system operationally suitable, effective, and ready for full-rate production following a six-month operational test and evaluation activity [6].


2.5 Raytheon Co.

The Raytheon Co. holds a patent from 2018 for an airborne IRCM system and method for establishing an IR communication link between airborne IRCM systems [7]. The technology uses a narrow field-of-view (FOV) sensor to trigger an IRCM system to determine the angular location of an incoming missile. The view sensor can emit light toward the missile, confusing the guidance system and redirecting the missile away from the aircraft. The IRCM system can also form an IR communications link with a corresponding narrow FOV sensor of a corresponding IRCM system on another aircraft.


3.0 Government Technologies

Multiple U.S. government organizations are using IRCM technology. Recent contracts and developments are described in the following subsections.


3.1 U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has been participating in the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (LAIRCM) Program since the early 2010s. The LAIRCM directs a high-intensity laser beam into the missile seeker, with the capability to counter advanced IR missile systems [8]. The LAIRCM is a derivative of the AN/AAQ-24 Nemesis Directional IRCM system. The system is for large aircraft, such as the USAF C-5, C-17, C-37, and C-40 cargo and utility jets, as well as the USAF C-130H and MC-130W four-engine utility turboprop aircraft, the CV-22 tiltrotor aircraft, and the KC-46 aerial refueling jet [9]. Compared to older models, newer LAIRCM systems use a smaller laser turret and operate in the IR region, providing better resolution and increased range of detection.

In 2020, Northrop Grumman won a $151.3M contract for LAIRCM systems and support [8]. The systems will be delivered to the USAF for use to defend aircrews by detecting, tracking, and jamming incoming IR threats. This order supports upgrades, modifications, and production installations on the C-17, HC/MC-130J, KC-46, P-8, CH-53K, C-37, and head-of-state aircraft. This order is expected to be completed by 2022.


3.2 U.S. Army

The U.S. Army initiative to develop a lightweight, low-cost, modular laser-based IR protection system for helicopters and light, fixed-wing aircrafts has been awarded the 2020 Army Acquisition Executive’s Excellence in Leadership Product Manager Team of the Year [10]. The team is responsible for the CIRCM, a laser-based infrared countermeasure system designed to interface with the Common Missile Warning System and Limited Interim Missile Warning system, as well as future missile warning systems. As previously mentioned, Northrop Grumman is working with the Army to deliver multiple CIRCM systems. The first delivery of the systems came in 2016 [11].


3.3 U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy is integrating Distributed Aperture Infrared Countermeasure (DAIRCM) systems in their rotary-wing aircrafts to protect them from threats posed by IR missiles [12]. DAIRCM is an integrated suite of missile-warning, laser-warning, hostile fire indicator, and IRCM components. The system uses a centrally installed laser that can feed all the beam directors. The missile warning sensor detects an incoming missile threat and sends the information to the processor, which then notifies the aircrew through the control interface unit, initiating the laser to direct jamming energy at the incoming missile. The Navy’s Program Office for Advanced Tactical Aircraft Protection Systems is the lead for developing the DAIRCM system.

Major contractors include Leonardo Digital/Retrieval Systems (DRS) Infrared Sensors and Systems and Leonardo DRS Daylight Solutions. Preliminary results indicate that the DAIRCM system, as installed on the HH-60G, can defeat incoming threats—specifically, vehicle-launched IR-guided missiles and MANPADS.



[1] BAE Systems. “AN/ALQ-144 Infrared Countermeasures Set.” https://www.baesystems. com/en-us/product/analq144-infrared-countermeasures-set, accessed 1 June 2021.

[2] Elbit Systems. “Directed IR Countermeasures.”, accessed 1 June 2021.

[3] Leonardo Company. “Miysis DIRCM.” miysis-dircm-3, accessed 2 June 2021.

[4] Northrop Grumman. “CIRCM Demonstrates Design Maturity, Production Capability.”, accessed 10 May 2021.

[5] Northrop Grumman. “Detecting and Deterring Missiles for 50 Years.” https://www., accessed 1 June 2021.

[6] Northrop Grumman. “Northrop Grumman Common Infrared Countermeasures System Ready for Full-Rate Production.” northrop-grumman-common-infrared-countermeasures-system-ready-for-full-rate-production, accessed 15 March 2021.

[7] Freebersyser, J. A., and M. J. Gelle. “Airborne Infrared Countermeasures Systems and Method for Establishing an Infrared Communications Link Between Airborne Infrared Countermeasure Systems.” U.S. Patent 9,964,633 B1, 8 May 2018.

[8] Airforce Technology. “Northrop Grumman to Provide LAIRCM Systems for USAF.”, accessed 17 June 2020.

[9] Keller, J. “Northrop Grumman to Provide Threat Warning Sensors for Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures System.” northrop-grumman-to-provide-laircm-threat-warning-sensors, accessed 8 June 2020.

[10] Hecht, J. “Phototonic Frontiers:  Laser Countermeasures: Scaling Down Mid-IR Laser Countermeasures for Smaller Aircraft.” article/16550234/photonic-frontiers-laser-countermeasures-scaling-down-midir-laser-countermeasures-for-smaller-aircraft, accessed 7 April 2014.

[11] Wikipedia. “Common Infrared Countermeasure Program.” Common_Infrared_Countermeasures_program, accessed 1 June 2021.

[12] U.S. Navy. “Distributed Aperture Infrared Countermeasure System (DAIRCM).” https://, 2018.

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