US Apache choppers receive a crucial extra IR layer against heat-guided missiles

WASHINGTON, US — The US Army is taking important steps to improve the combat effectiveness of its air fleet of Boeing AH-64E Apache helicopters. This time the actions are not intended to increase the attacking power of the Apache, but to protect it.

US AH-64 Apache choppers receive a crucial extra IR layer against heat-guided missiles
Photo credit: Reuters

The CIRCM protection system is now integrated as an upgrade in US helicopters. In its functionality, CIRCM is a kind of countermeasure. CIRCM uses an infrared sensor countermeasure system against approaching heat-guided missiles. Thus, the choppers actually have an “invisible infrared cloak” providing another layer of protection for the Apaches.

It could be said that Ukraine is the reason why the Boeing AH-64E Apache received the new update. MANPADS in Ukraine successfully deals with low-flying enemy Russian objects, be it drones or helicopters. Russia actually lost a significant number of Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters. Western-supplied MANPADS with heat-seeking missiles is largely the cause of the falling “Russian Alligators”.

CIRCM is not new to the US military but has been in development for years. In 2022, even the Pentagon officially announced that 100 CIRCM systems have already been integrated into American combat air vehicles, but did not specify their type. It is quite possible that they [CIRCMs] were the Apache helicopters in particular, but it is also possible that other weapons systems received them.

Basically, the CIRCM should confuse the infrared and thermal seekers of the cruise missile. This is achieved with two small trackers developed by Northrup Grumman, which turn on at a strictly defined moment and at a specific distance between the chopper and the missile. The American company says that CIRCM is well suited for upgrading in the coming years because of its open architecture. Open architecture has been used in almost all new weapon systems for the past twenty years.

AH-64E Apache helicopters to get new turbine engines by 2026
Photo credit: Wikipedia

However, CIRCM can also be used in other ways. If the helicopter’s main console and its integrated missile attack early warning system fail for some reason, the CIRCM can switch to CMWS mode and detect enemy missiles using an electro-optical sensor. With CIRCM equipped, Apaches, like the Army’s Black Hawks, can still deploy dispenser ‘buckets’ for decoy flares and chaff.

The idea of CIRCM being integrated into this model of helicopters is not recent. Experts say that the results of tactical missions in the Middle East of the Americans in 2015 and 2017 have shown the unavailability of such a system. Initially, another type of sensor was integrated into the Apaches – the AN/AAQ-24[V]N Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure [LAIRCM]. However, they are a temporary solution and are now being decommissioned and replaced by CIRCM.

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