Prototype Testing Advances on Selfridge KC-135

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Ground testing has successfully concluded on a prototype missile countermeasure device under review at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. The device is being tested on a KC-135 Stratotanker.

The Selfridge-based KC-135, flown by the 171st Air Refueling Squadron, will now undergo a series of flight tests to test the LAIRCM -- large aircraft infrared countermeasure -- system. The flight tests will be conducted at an Air Force test center in another state and are to begin in a few weeks. Testing is scheduled to be complete by early summer.

Since mid-January, a team of nine hand-picked Airmen from the 191st Maintenance Squadron at Selfridge have been working on the project with engineers and other specialists from the KC-135 Systems Project Office at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and from Northrop Grumman Corp., which developed the LAIRCM system, known as The Guardian. The initial work on the project was to modify a KC-135 to be able to accept The Guardian pod on the rear of the aircraft and to integrate it as needed with existing aircraft systems. The work was painstakingly thorough, as the Airmen and specialists worked to develop written guidelines for future installations of the system and to identify potential modifications, should the prototype be put into production.

"Our Airmen are really focused on this project, it has the potential to directly save the lives of not only our own Airmen, but any Soldier, Sailor or Marine who is onboard our aircraft in a hostile environment," said Chief Master Sgt. Henry Ryan, superintendent of the 191st Maintenance Squadron.

Ryan said while the group of Airmen working on the prototype project have been engaged with that work, others in the squadron have stepped up to ensure the day-to-day work of the maintenance squadron is getting done.

"This requires a total team effort," he said.

The LAIRCM is specifically designed to defeat a portable, man-carried surface-to-air missile. While such missiles don't pose much threat when the KC-135 is refueling another aircraft at a high altitude, the tanker can be susceptible to such weapons - favored by insurgent groups because of their relative low cost and ease to operate - while taking off and landing. Safety in a hostile environment is of particular concern when KC-135s perform one of their key alternate missions - serving as an aeromedical transportation system to move injured military personnel from remote bases to larger hospitals.

The LAIRCM is designed to continuously scan for any threats to the aircraft. If a missile is detected, it jams the incoming missile's guidance system using a laser beam. The system does not require the aircraft pilot or another aircrew member to take action to eliminate a potential threat.

The LAIRCM is a pod that can be attached to the external skin of the aircraft. The receiving aircraft has to be modified to have a receiving plate, an additional antennae and wiring inside the aircraft. Once the aircraft is prepped to be able to accommodate the LAIRCM pod, the pod would only be added to the aircraft on specific missions. It generally would not be added to the KC-135 on domestic training missions, as an example. The Air Force has not finalized plans on how many of the KC-135s in the fleet would be equipped with the necessary equipment to receive a pod. The Air Force has 167 KC-135s in the active duty fleet, 180 with the Air National Guard and 67 with the Air Force Reserve.

The 171st and the 191st are both components of the 127th Wing. Comprised of approximately 1,600 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which is also home to units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.