Defending our Airspace with EO/IR Counter-Unmanned Aircraft
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Apr 30, 2024

Defending our Airspace with EO/IR Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems

The need to defend sovereign airspace against Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) requires a rapid increase in innovative technologies that can identify, track and eliminate threats. The increased presence of unmanned aircraft poses a challenge to maintaining peace in our skies and there is a vital need to develop both defensive and offensive measures to counter threats against service personnel, military bases and critical assets.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems are a unique threat as they have a remarkable ability to navigate a wide range of environments and terrain undetected. They can be piloted remotely or autonomously and potentially used for nefarious intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. To handle this emergence, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with NASA, DOD, FAA and the Department of the Interior, are developing frameworks of UAS Traffic Management (UTM) and Air Domain Awareness (ADA) to collaboratively address how to best detect, identify and track any UAS that is legally or illegally airborne. Part of that framework requires high-performing counter-UAS systems to be established, which can actively engage hostile targets.

As UAS and drone technology evolves, defense and aerospace manufacturers must swiftly meet the technological requirements to successfully track any unmanned aircraft. L3Harris’ WESCAM MX™-Series electro-optical/infrared sensor systems provide the tools necessary to succeed in the counter-UAS mission. This is enabled by tracking sensors, including electro-optical, mid-wave infrared (MWIR) and shortwave infrared (SWIR) sensors, boresighted with laser designation well beyond the range of the laser guided munitions, providing increased capabilities in force protection, targeting performance and system reliability.

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Live fire tests resulted in a 100% kill rate, with various WESCAM MX-Series systems and supporting technologies bringing together the best electro-optics and precision laser designation to target, engage and destroy incoming UAS threats. Made in our vertically integrated facility in Hilton Head, South Carolina, L3Harris’ laser transmitters are unique in their ultra-high output peak power and short pulse, granting exceptional performance. L3Harris manufactures the glass used as the gain medium as well as the proprietary formulated Q-switch glass material, with 100% of the assembly taking place in house. This results in full control of how critical components are integrated, ruggedized and aligned within the entire package.

“The majority of the systems we build combine high-performance infrared sensors from our Mason, Ohio facility and laser transmitters from our facility in Hilton Head, South Carolina, with our industry-leading manufacturing process in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada,” said Director, Engineering, Duane Heslinga. “In the case of counter-UAS missions, each of EO/IR sensor system provides laser designation capabilities with fully-stabilized performance, only possible with L3Harris technology and processes.”

What sets L3Harris solutions apart is our advanced engineering that results in uncompromised line-of-sight stabilization. Our WESCAM MX-10D RSTA features a proven stabilization architecture that stops line-of-sight jitter by employing a combination of passive damping and active motion cancellation on a vibration-isolated payload for on-the-move engagements. For vehicles conducting reconnaissance or target acquisition, or those engaged in combat, this is a critical mission-need. While using our counter-UAS technology, targets remain in sight throughout engagement. The advanced stabilization applies to the entire payload so that every internal device and function benefits from the same level of jitter suppression. This results in a smooth and stable high-definition image, maximizing target identification ranges.

The technology is also MIL-STD environmentally qualified for use across all land, air and maritime domains. Dry or hot environments are countered with an active external cooling system to maintain high-performance, while larger desiccant packs are employed to handle humid conditions.

The WESCAM MX-10D RSTA features a tenacious auto-tracker that is designed and tuned by our software engineering team. The video tracker uses motion-based algorithms that have been tailored for real-time ground based applications. These advanced tracking algorithms greatly simplify the target acquisition process. The system can automatically annotate multiple targets closest to the center of the line-of-sight based on their movement and allow the operator to cycle through them. This, coupled with the robust tracking through obscurations, enables operators to track targets effectively in challenging terrain and urban environments.  

Applying this technology to real-world platforms requires forward-looking innovation. In response to current needs of the warfighter, L3Harris embraced its reputation as an agile and Trusted Disrupter, announcing its Vehicle-Agnostic Modular palletized ISR Rocket Equipment (VAMPIRE™). VAMPIRE is a low-cost, vehicle agnostic, rapid weapon deployment solution that gives ground forces the ability to quickly and accurately engage targets, including unmanned aircraft. VAMPIRE features the WESCAM MX-10 RSTA, providing ISR overmatch and is ideal for surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition missions from amphibious, armored combat and reconnaissance vehicles, including mast-mounted platforms. Due to its adaptability and ease of set-up, a single operator can track, laser designate and engage both airborne and ground targets while remaining highly mobile and able to engage with any UAS platform.

However, new UAS technology has led to smaller and faster platforms with the capability to carry weapons and other sensor suites. Therefore, L3Harris’ Fuzing and Ordnance Solutions (FOS) include a Proximity Fuze (Prox Fuze) for VAMPIRE and other counter-UAS applications, turning an APKWS-guided Hydra rocket into a low-cost UAS killing munition. Building on our Hydra Fuze products with millions of successful firings, our Prox Fuze detects the threat and airbursts without requiring direct impact with the UAS, greatly increasing the munition effectiveness on target as demonstrated by a 100% kill rate in US testing against UAS targets. When paired with the other L3Harris technologies in VAMPIRE, our Prox Fuze provides the system lethality to reliably defeat UAS threats.

Ultimately, L3Harris’ designating systems enable teams to dominate the battlefield 24/7, with greater precision than ever before. Field proven, with extensive deployment, WESCAM MX-Series designating systems offer “plug-and-play” installation, as well as high-sensitivity multi-spectral sensors for day, low-light and night-time missions. In addition, our systems encourage ease and familiarity of use, simplified turret interchangeability within fleets, efficiencies in technology enhancements and overall system support. The series features common electronics and cabling, common user interfaces and video overlays, and common software and internal components ensuring optimal integration within specific platforms and mission parameters.

However, to ensure we are meeting customers’ unique needs, L3Harris also has the capability and experience to provide unparalleled mission management software applications, such as Widow® 2.0, for aerial and ground systems like VAMPIRE and other counter-UAS systems. The open architecture software allows operators to integrate multiple feeds into one optimized display, integrating multi-spectral video sources and informational feeds with satellite imagery, reference maps and terrain databases. This results in increased situational awareness and provides an advantage to operators through tactical overlays, sensor integration for tracking and targeting and workload optimization. Furthermore, L3Harris’ ISR Software Development Team can tailor the interface for any operator or platform, customizing the information feed as required by specific counter-UAS mission needs.

Already proven on the ground in recent engagements, the VAMPIRE system has garnered acclaim for its precision and reliability in combat. It has shown potential for multi-domain application, with effective, low-cost engagement capabilities that can be extended to the seas, offering a transformative solution for maritime operations against UAS, fast inshore attack crafts and low-slow flyers.

Because today’s mission requirements demand identification and designation from longer standoff ranges, L3Harris counter-UAS initiatives are engineered to focus on the three factors that drive maximum range: resolution, magnification and stabilization. As a result, sensor systems such as the WESCAM MX-15D and WESCAM MX-10D RSTA are superior in their ability to provide counter-UAS solutions, acting as both a preventative and reactionary measure to any threats that appear in our skies.

L3Harris Technologies
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