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In this three-part article

ONE issues behind helicopter

survivability in the
battlefield are explored.


HISTORY and the simple fact that many Luftwaffe

The history of platform protection fighters were hard enough to land in
has long been characterised by move daylight, let alone at night saw losses
and counter move. From the fitting rise. Check, escape and counter-check.
of armour in aircraft, once they were This see-saw between advantage
powerful enough, to counter-act the and response has also characterised
effect of bullets, to the dawn of the the development of Defensive Aids
electronic warfare age in the Second Suites/Aircraft Survivability Equipment
World War. During the Allied bomber (DAS/ASE) as the helicopter as
offensive, the use of ‘Window’ (what we matured in the post-war era. Early
now term as chaff) helped to negate helicopters were too power-limited to
the effectiveness of German defences, consider extensive armour, defensive
in terms of early warning, night-fighter weapons nor other, more esoteric,
C2 and radar-laid searchlights / Anti- defensive systems. The advent of
Aircraft guns. As a countermeasure, turbine-powered machines in the late
the Germans (who’d already developed 1950s, coupled with militaries slowly
the same technology, called Duppel, waking up to the potential ‘vertical
but were reluctant to show their hand flank’ that helicopters could provide,
by using it) directed their fighters to the provided both increased capability
biggest area of ‘jamming’ and exploited and a new-found enthusiasm for
night-fighter radar sets in a different placing helicopters in harm’s way. This
frequency to find the bombers, or in increasingly aggressive appetite in the
another classic countermove, exploited deployment of helicopters, from the
the emissions from the bombers own first amphibious assault (conducted
navigation (such as H2S) and fighter by the UK’s RAF/RN Joint Helicopter
warning radars (for example, Monica) Unit) during the Suez campaign of
to detect and home on unsuspecting 1956, through the French experience
targets. Sometimes, just sending single in Algeria and culminating in the
seat, non-radar equipped, night-fighters adoption of air-assault tactics by
(the so-called Wilde Sau – ‘wild boar’ the US Army and USMC in Vietnam,
units) to detect bombers backlit by the all demonstrated a need to provide
fires they were causing was effective; improved protection to helicopter
that is, until the Allies started sending assets. These early experiences,
long range radar equipped escorts – coupled with more recent conflicts

such as The Falklands, Former


Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and any
number of other smaller interventions
(Somalia, Sierra Leone and Northern
Ireland are pertinent examples) have
identified key threats which rotorcraft
need protection from, and, importantly,
ascribed them to various stages in the
‘kill cycle’. This kill cycle is frequently
expressed in contemporary terms
as the ‘Survivability Onion’ (as the
protection is provided by a number
of layers), or the ‘Wickes Model’.
Analogous to the ‘Swiss Cheese’ model
in flight safety, the “onion” provides a
number of opportunities to break the
cycle between the threat and the loss weapon useless. Likewise, physical design consideration is that, often,
of the platform. The model breaks characteristics such as speed trained and experienced flight
down into five main areas; and height can severely reduce crews are harder to replace than a
the ability of an enemy combatant helicopter. Therefore, in the ‘worst
1. Don’t be there – Use whatever J2 to engage a helicopter with an case scenario’, if the aircraft is
(Intelligence) reports are available, optically-laid weapon such as fatally damaged provision should
pre-mission, to plan your routings to Heavy Machine Gun, small arms or be made for the crew (and, ideally
best avoid the known threats. Once Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). passengers…..) to ‘survive the
airborne, receive, if possible, live 4. Don’t be hit- Once the trigger crash’ so that they can be quickly
updates of the tactical situation and is pulled, the helicopter still has extracted by friendly forces and
conduct re-planning as required to options. Manoeuvre can be returned to the fight.
stay away from threat areas. effective against ballistic weapons,
2. Don’t be seen – If there’s no option and active elements of the DAS/ In order to assess what the next
but to enter a threat area, such as ASE, such as radar jammers, chaff, moves in rotorcraft survivability might
a MEZ (Missile Engagement Zone), flares and DIRCM (Directed Infra- look like, it’s necessary to have a look
in order to complete the mission Red Counter Measure) can attempt at the technologies and tactics behind
then maximum use of terrain and to protect the platform against a each of these steps.It’s also important
weather can help the platform to guided weapon in flight. to understand how we’ve got to where
remain hidden from threat systems. 5. Don’t be killed – If it’s not your day we are today, and where tomorrow’s
Likewise, reduction in radar, (and no tactic, countermeasure, threat may take us.
visual, Infra-Red (IR) and acoustic or combination of both, is 100%
signature can all help in preventing effective….) and the platform is hit,
the enemy from detecting (“seeing”) mitigation can be put in place to DON’T BE THERE
the helicopter. minimise the effect of the damage. Traditionally, helicopter crews
3. Don’t be engaged – Just because Inherent design characteristics have received an oral threat briefing
an enemy can ‘see’ you with the can ensure that critical platform from a A2/J2 Intelligence Officer and
human eye, radar or an EO/IR systems are physically separated then planned a route on a paper map
system, doesn’t necessarily mean in the airframe or duplicated with the intention of avoiding, where
he/she can engage you. Many (even triplicated in some cases) to possible, known enemy positions.
guided weapons require a ‘lock’ prevent the platform being critically There have, historically, been a number
(either radar or IR) before launch; damaged easily. There is still a role of inadequacies with this approach.
there are various tactics and for armour to play in protecting Firstly, most threat assessments
systems that can deny this stage vulnerable systems, the crew and are out of date the moment they are
of the engagement; rendering the any passengers/troops. The final delivered – assuming that they are even


accurate in the first place. Secondly, point; often crews will now have a near updates, today’s helicopter crews are
the moment the helicopter departs ‘on real-time “feed” of their target area in far better served than their forebears
task’ the intelligence is out of date; the brief (and increasingly en-route). when it comes to planning. The
most battlefields are fluid and dynamic The extensive selection of other C4ISR widespread use of Mission Planning
and over the course of a long rotary (Command, Control, Communications, Systems enables crews to overlay ATO/
mission cycle a lot can change in an Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance ACO routes and navigational data,
intelligence picture. The tragic loss of and Reconnaissance) platforms such and another layer showing the known
RAF C130 Hercules XV179 in Iraq in as Rivet Joint, AWACS, Sentinel and or suspected enemy positions. Even
2005 is a case in point; the C130 flew a plethora of MC-12 variants can all, better, these enemy positions can be
through an area where two US UH-60s where the threat situation allows, displayed as threat areas, taking into
had been engaged earlier in the same provide live intelligence feeds to account weapon ranges and terrain –
day – before the C130 took off. This rotorcraft. Well, as long as they can helping crews to pick low level routes
information was neither disseminated maintain line-of-sight communication that are shielded from the enemy’s
to the crew pre-flight, or passed to links. One of the biggest issues of sensors. As the tactical situation
them in-flight; an omission that the RAF flying at low level (either through develops in flight, new threats can be
Board of Inquiry noted: the tactical situation or due to bad added as they are disseminated on
weather) is that it’s very easy for a the ‘net’. There are already systems
“The fact that the aircraft took- helicopter to ‘fall of the grid’ and lose that will take a threat message and
off on a routine sortie without an connectivity with the increasingly large display it automatically on the aircraft’s
accurate threat picture, proves that the network of interconnected platforms, moving map display or tactical
intelligence collation and dissemination especially in areas of high terrain. This situation display, allowing the crew to
process needs urgent review…” 1 increases the requirement for either dynamically re-route with minimum
high altitude relays (possibly UAVs effort to stay away from the areas of
The current ‘state of the art’ such as Global Hawk) or even satellite the highest threat. This ‘combat cloud’
sees mission planning conducted communications. As with all such will be vital for future helicopters to be
electronically, with a far wider networks the weak link is bandwidth – fully connected with.
reaching set of intelligence tools. The especially regarding SatCom.
widespread use of UAVs is a case in With the pre-flight and en-route
Sometimes, however, your mission
will take you specifically to where
1. Board of Inquiry Report into the loss of C130K XV179 -
uk/20121019164922/ the enemy are. If you have to enter
boi_raf_hercules.pdf - accessed 9 Oct 17 a high-threat area then the key is to

do it in a way which minimalizes your
exposure to the threat. There are
several methods of doing this; adroit
mission planning can enable the crew
to select the optimal route to the target,
maximising the use of terrain masking.
If the aircraft has an IFR capability, and
the threat is not radar-laid, then bad
weather can be a very effective counter
to optically or EO/IR guided threats.
Likewise, simply flying at night is a valid
tactic against a low-tech enemy with no
radar/EO capability, and operating in
the very darkest periods of the calendar
month can negate the effectiveness
of old night-vision systems. It’s no
coincidence that most planned assault

operations in recent campaigns have
occurred at night – often deliberately in
the very darkest hours – with the intent
of degrading the ability of any enemy
NVGs whilst exploiting state of the art
Western technology and superior night-
training. However, operating in bad
weather and at night impose a number
of challenges to helicopter crews;
challenges that can only reliably be
overcome by a certified DVE2 system
to assist crews in reliably mitigating
the environmental challenge at an
acceptable risk.
Slightly more esoteric ways of ‘not
being seen’ are available as well, and
these revolve around the signature
management of the helicopter. To
many, ‘stealth’ technology is designed
to make the platform ‘invisible’ to
radar. This is in many ways a myth;
even the most advanced publically
acknowledged stealth designs have
a radar return, their designs merely
reduce their RCS3 to confer an weapons range, undetected, to attack
operating/tactical advantage against the threat system itself. Rotorcraft
the threat radar systems – for example designers find radar stealth challenging;
passing through a MEZ en-route to trying to terrain-mask is a much more
target or even getting into optimal reliable and predictable way to avoid

2. Degraded Visual Environment

3. Radar Cross Section

being detected (assuming you know location. RWR’s are equally useful
where the threat system is…..). The against Air Intercept radars in fighter
only rotorcraft with acknowledged aircraft. The ability to know you’re
RCS-reduction measures was the still- being looked for before you’re found is
born RAH-66 Comanche; it applied a key tactical advantage.
radar ‘faceting’, the extensive use The threat of IR MANPADS5 and IR
of RAM4 and a ‘cleaned up’ exterior tracked gun systems has increased
(including internal weapons bays) to significantly on the battlefield since the
reduce its signature. Whilst not officially introduction of the SA-7 “Grail” in the
published, the RCS of the RAH-66 is late 1960s. When introduced in limited
claimed to be similar to that of a single numbers in Vietnam it proved a nasty
Hellfire missile. shock to US helicopter crews, as it
If you can’t reduce your RCS did to Israeli jet crews during the Yom
appreciably, the next best thing is to be Kippur War of 1973. Homing in on the
aware that there is a hostile threat radar hot gasses of a jet engine exhaust, the
in the area. Radar Warning Receivers SA-7 proved very potent. Even more
(RWRs) exploit the simple premise stark was the impact that covertly
that radar energy has to arrive at the supplied FIM-92 “Stinger” missiles
aircraft with enough residual energy had upon occupying Soviet helicopters
to reflect all the way back to the host and aircraft in Afghanistan in the mid
radar. Emitted radar energy will travel 1980s6. Exact figures are difficult to
further than the return will be received, verify, but the US in 1993 suggested
conferring a range advantage upon that Stingers had destroyed 269 Soviet
a RWR-equipped platform. Provided aircraft from 340 engagements – a
the RWR is able to receive the radar 79% kill ratio7. Soviet, and later Russian
signal in the correct frequency band figures claim around 100 “kills” –
a degree of advanced warning can be the true figure is therefore probably
gained, and the helicopter manoeuvred somewhere in-between. Regardless
to stay clear of the threat. More of the final total, the introduction of
advanced RWRs will sensitive enough the Stinger caused a major headache
to discriminate between different radar for the Soviets, leading to a crash
systems, and will be able to classify programme to develop new tactics and
the threat if the on-board threat library countermeasures.
is accurate enough. It is important The best way of defeating such IR
to note, however, that RWR’s do not systems is to minimise the IR signature
provide accurate range information of the aircraft, such that the aircraft
– merely a display of relative the cannot be seen and engaged, or the
bearing of the radar, frequency and engagement range is significantly
received power. The latter could be reduced. Design can help, such as
used to estimate range if radars always burying engines in the fuselage and
operated on a fixed output power, but diverting hot exhaust gasses into the
many can vary it. For geo-location, 2 or rotor system can help reduce the
more RWR-equipped/SigInt platforms signature, and thereby detection range.
are required; the more platforms the The RAH-66 used an ingenious method
more accurate the resolution of the of mixing hot air with cold inside the tail
boom before expelling it. More prosaic,
and better for legacy designs, are IR
4. Radar Absorbent Material Suppression Systems (IRSS). These
5. MAN Portable Air Defence System – shoulder launched IR missiles.
6. For a colourful account of the supply of Stingers (and other weapons) to the Afghan Mujahideen, see
systems concentrate on reducing
“Charlie Wilson’s War” by George Crile. the hot engine exhaust by fitting a
7. Figures from the 1993 US Air Defense Artillery Yearbook
modified exhaust pipe which contains


various mechanisms designed to mix the IRSS blocks the view of the rear aircraft’s orientation was different
hot exhaust with ambient air. These of the engine and robs the pilot of this to reality.
systems can be effective, but they can feature as part of the station keeping Although not really an issue
also cause a reduction in available references. during a pitched battle, being heard
engine power due to the disturbance Literally ‘being seen’ has been a is nonetheless often as important as
of ‘clean’ exhaust flow. Additionally, military problem for centuries; effective being seen. Several helicopter roles,
the IR signature of the whole airframe camouflage has long provided a such as CSAR and SF support, would
can be reduced by the application of solution. Helicopters are usually painted benefit from a less noisy or distinctive
paints with reduced IR reflectivity, and in an appropriate colour scheme for acoustic signature. The problem with
other “hot spots” on the aircraft can be the environmental conditions they helicopters is that there are several
blocked from the outside world. As well are expected to fly in, but given the sources of noise; from the engines
as helping to combat the MANPADS variables of terrain, vegetation and themselves, the rotor system and,
threat, reducing the IR signature can be weather it has been hitherto impossible especially, the tail rotor and associated
a valuable tool in preventing detection to continuously change the colour gearboxes. The acoustic signature can
by IR Search & Track Systems (IRSTS) and pattern to best ‘hide’ the aircraft. be reduced using a number design
fitted to most modern fighter aircraft, Emerging technology suggests that techniques; the use of swept-back
who, increasingly prefer passive clever manipulation of chemicals in blade tips can smooth the separation
detection over lighting up their fire a skin coating film may open up the of vortices off the main rotor system.
control radars. Finally, reducing the possibility of adaptive visual camouflage The tail rotor can have more blades
energy emitted from the engines can in the medium term. Whilst unlikely to and turn more slowly with asymmetric
have an appreciable reduction in the reach the scale of a full Predator – style spacing. In the future, perhaps, a
platform’s visual detectability to those cloak, like radar stealth, visual stealth hybrid or full electric drive system can
using NVGs. As one experienced only needs to be good enough, in most remove the weight and noise of the
CH-47 pilot told me once, flying next scenarios, to permit the platform to get gearboxes and drive-shafts currently
to a CH-47 fitted with the Davis IRSS8 close enough to complete its task, or to required for a conventional helicopter to
was difficult; traditionally, Chinook cause long enough confusion to have operate; maybe in a manifestation
crews have been able to formate at effect – much like the 1980s trend for of life imitating art, the ‘whisper mode’
night using the glow produced by painting fake canopies on the underside of the fictional Airwolf TV helicopter
the power turbines at the rear of the of fast jets, hoping to cause an opposing may yet become a reality in the years
engines as a useful reference. Fitting pilot to think, via a quick glance, that the to come. v

8. See for details of the CH-47 IRSS. Part 2 in the next issue of HeliOps Frontline.