Hostile fire detector helps pilot vision

An infra-red imaging system designed to warn helicopter pilots of incoming missiles, and which could also helping navigate in conditions of poor visibility, is set to go on sale next year.

Elix-IR, which is the result of a Technology Demonstrator Project being funded jointly by the UK Ministry of Defence and Thales, builds on the experience the defence firm has acquired in developing the Air Defence Alerting Device for the British Army and the PIRATE Infra-Red Search & Track sensor programme to equip Eurofighter Typhoon.

The result, Thales says, is a system that provides a superior capability against a wider spectrum of threats than any threat warning system already on the market for helicopters and sub-sonic fixed-wing aircraft.

Elix-IR provides early warning and location of incoming hostile fire based on the heat signatures of guided missiles, machine guns, and ballistic and non-guided weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, allowing the aircrew to take effective evasive or defensive actions.

To make the system easier to support, hardware components have been sourced via commercial of-the-shelf technology wherever possible. For aircraft in current operational use, it can either be used as an autonomous standalone system or integrated with existing defences, operating in parallel with or replacing existing sensors. New aircraft can be fitted with Elix-IR as their sole or primary defensive sensor system, or have it integrated into a complex defence system.

Future possibilities include using the image derived from the sensors to provide additional functionality such as driver vision aids that would make a pilot’s job easier in low-visibility and ‘brownouts’ conditions.

As well as the joint development contracts with the MoD, Thales has agreements with France’s DGA defence procurement agency and the Australian Department of Defence to apply the same technology to ground platforms for potential use in armoured vehicles.

Thales expects helicopter and combat support aircraft solutions to be available from early 2009, and says the target price will be comparable to existing ultra violet systems, but with significantly greater threat warning capability and future growth potential.

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