Electronic Weapons: Surion Seeks Safety

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July 24, 2011: South Korea has selected a Canadian firm to provide AN/AAR-60 MILDS (Missile Launch Detection System) for equipping its new Surion transport helicopters with defenses against shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles (like the SAM-7 or Stinger). Once MILDS detects a threat, it then triggers a separate system that drops flares to confuse the incoming heat-seeking missile. Some nations are shifting from flares to defensive systems that use laser beams.

A typical missile defense system has two components. First, there are 4-6 ultraviolet detection sensors (weighing 3-4 kg/6-9 pounds each) mounted on different parts of the helicopter to detect an approaching missile. These sensor are linked to an 3-5 kg (7-11 pound) computer that contains software for determining that the object is indeed a missile and where it is headed. The detection computer is hooked to a countermeasures system using either flares and chaff (strips of metal foil), or a laser, to confuse the missiles guidance system (that is homing in the heat of the helicopters engines.) The countermeasures component weighs 14-17 kg (30-50 pounds), depending on type or model.

For over a decade there was is a debate over whether to equip helicopters with flares and chaff, or systems that use a laser to confuse the missiles guidance system. The laser systems originally cost about 40 percent more than the flare based ones (which costs about two million dollars per aircraft). But the cost difference has been shrinking. The flare systems use a proven technology, while the laser based ones have slowly been gaining experience under combat conditions. Thus there's increasing enthusiasm for the laser. This is because it's harder for incoming missiles to get past lasers, and because as long as you have electricity, your laser system has ammo. Flare systems can run out of flares.

South Korea introduced its new helicopter two years ago. It's the first domestically designed and manufactured helicopter. This KUH (Korean Utility Helicopter), nicknamed "Surion," carries two pilots and 11 passengers. It can be armed with 7.62mm machine-guns. Some 60 percent of the components are made in South Korea. The 8.7 ton KUH can hover at up to 3,000 meters and has a top speed of 240 kilometers an hour.

South Korea spent a billion dollars developing the KUH, and it was designed for civilian and military use. Thus South Korea becomes only one of 11 countries that produces helicopters. Full scale production begins next year. The South Korean military is buying 250 KUHs to replace its UH-1s and 500MDs. South Korea plans to energetically market the KUH overseas.

 


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