The U.S. Air National Guard is set to test next-generation decoy technology that was originally designed and fielded in the United Kingdom to protect Royal Air Force aircraft against advanced radar-guided missiles.
Leonardo announced May 13 that its expendable active decoy technology — known as BriteCloud — will be evaluated under the Office of Secretary of Defense Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) program, potentially leading the way for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to adopt the technology across its fighter fleets.
As part of the BriteCloud trials, F-16s will dispense the decoys “in a variety of challenging scenarios,” Leonardo officials said.
Working with its U.S. subsidiary Selex Galileo, testing will begin this summer, said Jon McCullagh, Leonardo Electronics’ head of strategic campaigns for electronic warfare. “Trials will take place at Air National Guard ranges in the United States. There will initially be ground-based evaluation using ‘hardware-in-the-loop’ testing, followed by flight trials,” he told C4ISRNET.
He added: “Assuming the results are positive, as has been seen in all previous trial campaigns, then we understand that the U.S. Air National Guard will take BriteCloud into service.”
BriteCloud can be ejected from existing flare and chaff dispensers — negating the need for costly integration work — and utilizes what is known as Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) techniques, meaning it can digitally capture the signals coming from a radar-guided missile, analyze them against its own on-board threat library, and then emit a spoofing signal to cloak the targeted aircraft.
The UK-developed BriteCloud is unique in that it provides aircrews with an expendable mini jamming pod that ejects away from the aircraft, significantly increasing miss distances compared with current generation towed decoys or older generation chaff.
“A key benefit of BriteCloud is its expendability, which allows it to put a significant distance between itself and the aircraft, drawing missiles further away than would be the case were the pilot relying only on a towed radar decoy or on-board jammer,” McCullagh said.
BriteCloud is understood to be the only modern off-board jamming decoy that has been operationally deployed, a claim that has piqued the interest of DoD officials. In the 1980s, the U.S. military funded the development of the GEN-X expendable decoy system, although McCullagh noted that this used comparatively simple analog repeater technology “which would be unlikely to fool modern threat systems.”
“BriteCloud uses newly developed technologies such as advanced battery design and miniaturized electronics to deploy techniques that will be effective against even the most advanced threats currently being fielded,” he said.
Air forces, including those of the United States, are once again preparing for peer conflict and the prospect of sending aircraft into highly-contested airspaces. Future conflicts will see crews running gauntlets of advanced radar-guided surface-to-air missile systems — such as Russia’s S-400 — as well as enemy fighter aircraft armed with long-range air-to-air missiles.
Leonardo has also developed a higher-powered 55-T BriteCloud variant, specifically designed for protecting larger aircraft such as transporters or airborne early warning platforms.
Last year, the Royal Air Force adopted BriteCloud for its fleet of Tornado GR4 fighter aircraft, which until their retirement in March were deployed as part of “Operation Shader” in the Middle East to target Islamic State militants. The service is now rolling out the technology for the Eurofighter Typhoon, which will initially utilize the aircraft’s existing 55mm dispensers, but in the future will employ a new Smart Dispensing System from Swedish manufacturer Saab. McCullagh would not comment specifically on RAF Typhoon integration.
BriteCloud comes in either a 55mm diameter format, which has a similar appearance to a soda can with fins, or a “brick” form factor that fits within a 2”x1”x8” (218) dispenser system. The latter is utilized on the F-16 as part of the AN/ALE-47 countermeasure system.
Other programs that will face foreign comparative testing in fiscal 2019 include an Israeli mid-wave infrared camera designed for unmanned aerial vehicles and a Canadian-sourced synthetic aperture sonar for mine detection.