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What is LAIRCM?
A 440th Airlift Wing C-130, equipped with Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM), awaits takeoff on the flightline at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., February 02, 2009. The LAIRCM attachments are being added to help divert hostile fire through laser beams that redirect surface-to-air missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jacqueline Pender)
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Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures-LAIRCM

Posted 5/2/2009   Updated 5/2/2009 Email story   Print story

by Capt. Lauri Turpin
440 Airlift Wing

5/2/2009 - Pope AFB, N.C., April 24, 2009 -- If a heat-seeking infrared missile is headed for the tail of the plane you are on, you want that plane to be equipped with large aircraft infrared countermeasures (LAIRCM) - the latest thing in Air Force missile defense technology.
Ninety percent of all U.S. air combat losses for the last 25 years can be attributed to infrared missiles. An infrared missile (IR) uses infrared technology - or heat signatures - to seek its target. These missiles are shoulder-fired, or surface-to-air (SAMS), and are widely available on the world market. The missiles are also known as MANPADs - man-portable air-defense systems. About 80 percent of U.S. fixed-wing aircraft losses in Desert Storm were from ground based Iraqi defensive systems using IR SAMS, and MANPADS.
"The intermediate range missile uses a seeker head that's looking for a white-hot source," said Capt. Jeffrey Bryant, 95th Airlift Squadron's standardization and evaluation navigator. "We have definitely seen a lot of these used in Iraq, targeting our planes." To counter these attacks, the Air Force developed LAIRCM.
"This system protects us from incoming infrared missiles," Captain Bryant said, who is serving as project manager for the LAIRCM installation. "Basically it's a stand-alone system that is constantly on watch for us."
The LAIRCM system has two small laser transmitter assemblies, which are mounted on the rear of the plane, as well as five missile warning transmitters at various points on the aircraft. The two most prominent warning transmitters are in two projections on top of the aircraft just back of the cockpit that resemble "horns." Processors in the cockpit and rear of the plane collect the data and transmit information to the aircrew.
"The laser transmitters are the heart of the system," Bryant said. "They basically work to interrupt the infrared signal, or heat. The two rear lasers "blind" the missile's eyeball, so it disables the missile's ability to follow the heat source from the plane."
The system is designed as a modification, so they can be installed fairly easily.
"In my experience, new systems always require a degree of breaking in," said Col. Willie Cooper, 440th Maintenance Group commander. "Lasers as you can imagine are sensitive and fragile and need to be maintained carefully. But our guys have done a great job getting this new technology installed on the planes."
'We received our first one a few months ago, and we've got two planes done now," Cooper said.
"This system is up and running in the desert. MANPADs are everywhere over there," Bryant said. "Our pilots over there have definitely used the system. It's pretty cool - it's the definition of smoke and mirrors."
The LAIRCM offers pilots not only the ability to defeat heat-seeking missiles, but also provides upgraded missile warning systems. The 440th Airlift Wing pilots completed training on the system here at Pope, but more training will begin once the modifications are complete said Captain Bryant.
"This is a great example of how the Air Force is using assets throughout the active duty and Reserves," Bryant said. "This is head and shoulders above what we've had. It allows us to see and defeat the missile. It's keeping us safe as we do our job."

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