New Sensor Protects Army Helicopters From Small Arms

The U.S. Army is in the early phases of a fleet-wide technology upgrade for its helicopter defensive systems.

The U.S. Army is in the early phases of a fleet-wide technology upgrade of its Common Missile Warning System, or CMWS — helicopter sensors that can provide detection against small arms fire in addition to missile threats.

So far, the Army has ordered 1,300 CMWS Generation 3 systems, technology which improves the processing power of the original system to add small arms fire detection technology, said Bill Staib, director of threat management solutions, BAE.

The existing or prior CMWS technology, now installed across the Army’s helicopter fleet of Apaches, Chinooks, Kiowas and others, places five ultraviolet sensors around the skin of the aircraft in order to detect incoming missiles.

The sensors are connected to an on-board computer, called an electronic control unit, which then helps the helicopter change course to avoid the missile or send out flares to divert the incoming threat off course.

“CMWS Gen 3 gives us a significant improvement in the processing capability which allows us to do a lot more with the software.  With a lot more processing power we not only have the latest missile warning algorithms but also have the hostile fire indication allowing us to detect small arms fire and RPGs,” Staib explained.

With the additional processing power, the UV sensors are able to provide information about multiple classes of small arms fire, including RPGs, he added.

CMWS Gen 3, which does not add any additional hardware or weight to the system, is engineered at a BAE facility in Nashua, N.H. So far, the systems are installed on more than 200 aircraft in Afghanistan, a fielding effort which began in October of last year, Staib said.

BAE has delivered about 400 of the 1300 CMWS Gen 3 systems ordered so far and plans to outfit the entire Army fleet of about 2,000 CMWS systems.

CMWS Gen 3 was live-fire tested by the Army last summer and in 2012, Staib added.

The system is also configured to integrate with the Army’s Common Infrared Countermeasures, or CIRCM, a lightweight sensor and laser-jammer system designed to identify incoming missiles and throw them off course.

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Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.