Radar missile decoys will draw enemy missiles away from RAF jets

We like the BriteCloud so much we're going to write a book about it, says MoD

RAF Tornado GR.4 flying down the Mach Loop in Wales
An RAF Tornado GR.4 of RAF Marham flies down the famous Mach Loop in Wales

Britain's Tornado fighter jets may soon be deploying with missile-jamming decoys on board after the MoD signed a £2.5m order with Leonardo-Finmeccanica.

The BriteCloud decoys are about the size of a can of Coke and can be fired from the jets' flare dispensers. The electronic gizmo uses “powerful radar emissions” to draw enemy missiles aimed at the Tornado safely away from the aircraft.

Built in Luton, the BriteCloud system is intended to replace traditional flares and radar-reflecting foil currently used as missile decoys by the world's air forces.

Although the UK trialled BriteCloud last October on air warfare ranges in the US, and claims it has been working with Finmeccanica-owned Selex ES on the project since 2012, the Swedish air force was the first to adopt the “expendable active decoy” back in 2013.

A Finmeccanica press release from the time tells us: “BriteCloud is a self-contained digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jammer that is designed to protect fighter jets from complex threats such as RF-guided missiles and fire-control radars. After manual or automatic ejection from a standard chaff and flare dispenser, BriteCloud detects RF emissions and cross-references them against its pre-programmed threat library. Upon finding a match, the decoy applies advanced algorithms and emits a deception signal to defeat the threat radar and incoming missile.”

Later that year, another company missive put it in plain English: “Incoming radar pulses are received and the BriteCloud’s on-board computer copies these pulses and uses them to simulate a ‘false target’ so convincing that the threat system cannot detect the deception. By doing this, the BriteCloud can seduce even the most modern threats away from the platform.”

So far the MoD has spent about £25m on the project. The latest £2.5m contract is so the RAF can develop its “concept of operations” for using BriteCloud – or, as the ever-sensible Finmeccanica press office put it, “MoD buys more of Leonardo-Finmeccanica's new miniaturised missilejammer to allow RAF to write a ‘user guide' for its pilots.” Active deployment in UK service is expected by mid-2017.

RAF Wing Commander Matthew Tandy said, in a canned quote: “BriteCloud is much easier to install on a variety of aircraft than previous bulkier decoy systems, because it can be used from existing countermeasure dispensers such as flare launchers.”

In principle the BriteCloud is identical to systems used for decades on submarines and surface warships. Homing torpedoes typically lock on to a target using the target's own emissions: sonar pulses, engine noise, a surface ship's wake, etc. In the Second World War, when the Germans first developed acoustic homing torpedoes, the Royal Navy rapidly deployed simple towed noise-making decoys so the German weapons would lock onto those and harmlessly detonate behind the target ship.

In aerial warfare modern missiles tend to depend on the target being illuminated either by a ground radar station, or, most commonly, by an active radar mounted in the missile itself. By sensing what type of radar pulses are being emitted by an incoming missile, identifying it, and then broadcasting false returns at it to lure it away, BriteCloud really is quite a clever little box of tricks.

Exactly how much use it is against passive homing missiles, such as types that track infra-red emissions such as those given off by a jet using full afterburner while trying to shake off a threat, remains to be seen. Clearly, the old-fashioned magnesium flare isn't under threat just yet. ®

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