U.S. to Allow Exports of Anti-Missile Systems for Military Helicopters
Friendly nations for the first time will be able to acquire the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures (ATIRCM) system, the company announced March 2.
BAE Systems received a fast-track contract in 2008 to develop and produce the ATIRCM system on an accelerated schedule in the wake of rampant missile attacks against Army helicopters in war zones.
BAE already exports its "common missile warning system" but the ATIRCM laser countermeasure had been restricted from foreign sales until now.
When an aircraft comes under attack, the warning system detects the incoming missile and communicates the missile’s position relative to the aircraft, cueing the ATIRCM jam head to the missile's location. ATIRCM then locates and tracks the incoming threat and emits a high-energy laser beam to thwart the missile’s infrared seeker, effectively blinding its guidance system and preventing it from homing in on the aircraft.
“We are seeing tremendous international interest for this system, which has proven to be both highly effective and reliable since its fielding in 2009," Bill Staib, director of threat management solutions at BAE Systems, said in a statement.
The system also can be installed in fixed-wing aircraft, including commercial airliners. The Department of Homeland Security approved it for use by U.S. commercial airplanes.
BAE Systems officials hailed the decision to allow foreign sales of ATIRCM as the company faces increased global competition. Other U.S. firms, as well as European and Israeli manufacturers, have developed comparable missile defense systems and all compete aggressively in the international arms market.
"We are talking to several customers internationally," said Tom Kirkpatrick, ATIRCM program manager at BAE Systems in Nashua, New Hampshire. "It is a big deal that the U.S. government is allowing this," Kirkpatrick told National Defense.
The worldwide proliferation of shoulder-fired missiles, commonly known as manpads, has fueled demand for defensive systems, Kirkpatrick said. Technologies like ATIRCM are designed to defeat "advanced threats," including modern manpads, he added. "The Army has said publicly the system has saved aircraft. Its performance speaks well, and several countries are interested in buying it."
The obvious target customers, he said, are countries that buy Chinook helicopters and BAE's common missile warning system.
Permission to export ATIRCM is not a blanket license, however, and BAE will have to seek specific authorization to sell the system on a case by case basis.
The decision was the culmination of a lengthy review by Defense and State Department panels, as well as White House officials. "It was not easy to get export approval," Kirkpatrick said. "Given the advanced nature of the technology, it gets a fair amount of scrutiny."
The go-ahead to BAE Systems follows two other major export policy decisions last month that were welcomed by the defense industry. The most surprising was an end to the ban of U.S. military and commercial drone exports. Although sales will be closely scrutinized, the new policy would ease previously ironclad restrictions on U.S. sales of military unmanned aircraft internationally.
Also notable was an announcement earlier this month that the Raytheon Co. had received approval to export a gallium nitride-based active electronically scanned array sensor used in the Patriot air and missile defense system. A factor in that decision was pressure from non-U.S. buyers of the Patriot that have sought to upgrade it so it performs at levels comparable to the U.S. system.
The defense industry for years has faulted the Obama administration for not doing enough to facilitate U.S. sales to allied countries, despite efforts by the administration to ease bureaucratic burdens associated with the export licensing process, and actions to remove restrictions on “dual use” technology exports. Companies have complained that government agencies often have conflicting views of what technologies fall under the control of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, and have called for more predictability about what markets they can pursue.
The Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer Frank Kendall has championed measures that would allow U.S. companies to sell more equipment overseas. Kendall and other officials have called for greater defense exports as international sales of U.S. weapons helps to lower the cost of Defense Department programs.
Administration officials also have begun to appreciate the foreign-policy benefits of allowing defense sales to allies, said Remy Nathan, vice president of international affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association. “The administration is thinking about security cooperation more,” Nathan said. “Frank Kendall has been taking a more active role in engaging our allies and partners at international trade shows.”
Kendall also has suggested the Defense Department should encourage companies to design more “exportable” systems, Nathan said. Meanwhile, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which manages sales to foreign militaries, has announced plans to reduce red tape and work more efficiently. “You are also seeing more State and Defense Department collaboration.” Rapidly changing and growing security concerns likely have contributed to the greater focus on defense exports," Nathan said. “Working with partners is becoming more important.”
Photo: A CH-47 Chinook testing its anti-missile system. (Army)