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Unique Robins testing helps warfighter, saves lives

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga --  When large transport or rotary wing aircraft support a mission down range, there's always the threat of those wanting to do harm to the lives and assets onboard.

That includes risk from a range of shoulder-fired, vehicle-mounted and other infrared-guided missiles capable of following the path of an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III or C-130 Hercules, for example.

At Robins, helping to stop those missiles in their tracks happens through a joint partnership between the 566th Electronics Maintenance Squadron and Northrop Grumman engineers.

Known as Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures, or LAIRCM, this sophisticated technology is a highly-effective and complex missile threat detection system. It combines a missile warning system and GLTA laser jammer, better known as the Guardian Laser Transmitter Assembly. The countermeasures system uses a laser pointer-tracker.

LAIRCM's end goal is to not only detect a missile threat, but to track and defeat it by confusing the missile's guidance system so that it's destroyed. The processor, or brains of the system's central processing unit, is tested through various scenarios at a facility on base.

Engineers routinely test the interface unit which pilots use to load various software for different flight plans, preparing them in advance of any type of missile attack depending on location. This workload has been here for about four years.

A simulation can run a signal path all the way through every portion of the processor, giving the operator a three-dimensional view of where a missile originated.

"The plane - via these missile warning sensors - detect when they've been fired upon," said Jeff Lamb, LAIRCM element chief. "They're extremely accurate."

Another interesting unique capability here is the presence of a laser firing range, a chamber coated with black walls to prevent the scattering and reflection of light as the GLTA laser is fired and tested. "It's basically a really high-tech laser pointer, similar to what you'd point at with your cat," explained Lamb. "It is tested here on a firing table, where we ensure we have a good beam pattern on the right frequency."

Just how powerful is it? "In less than a one-second exposure, you can be permanently blinded," he said.

The system can lock into a missile from a far distance - 3 at a time - picking up on the threat even as it's launched from the ground and up to very high altitudes.

"It's very effective and neat to work on," said Northrop Grumman's Doug Crowson, who has worked on the program for several years. "Every time it's called on, it works." Robins is currently in the second year of a $463 million five-year contract with Northrup Grumman to transfer more testing responsibilities here.

Currently, Robins performs 20 percent of the testing workload, with 100 percent of the system's processor workload. In the future as the program expands, Robins will perform 80 percent of testing, while continuing to maintain and test the processor.

"With Northrop Grumman's assistance, Robins will develop our own ability to be the source of repair," said Lamb.