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Saab Global

Smart technology to deceive missiles

3 min read + Video

Self-defence for airborne platforms means knowing whether anyone is observing you or making you a target. That requires keeping track of every type of signal out there. ESTL, Enhanced Survivability Technology, is an effective self-protection system that can be adapted to a variety of threats. ESTL is also cleverly designed in modules so that it can be quickly reconfigured by the user. It facilitates a simple upgrade so that older aircraft can also deceive modern missiles.

An aircraft designed in the 1980s can have difficulty defending against modern missiles. Using modern signal processing, missiles can distinguish the aircraft from a decoy that flies in the wrong direction and detaches too quickly from the aircraft.

“Third generation missiles must be fooled by firing the decoys forwards. The fact that almost no combat aircraft is currently able to do this was the inspiration behind ESTL,” says Christer Zätterqvist, Product Manager within the area of self-protection system at Saab.

How can an aircraft or helicopter be capable of doing this without being modified? At Saab, the quest began to find the common denominator for “fixed wing” aircraft.


In its standard form, ESTL is a missile shaped container. Here visible in a Gripen fighter.

“The common denominator we found was that all of them can carry missiles. We therefore realised that the link between ESTL and the platform is via the missile hooks,” explains Christer Zätterqvist adding,

“We made ESTL simple to replace and expand – rather like Lego. The customer can buy additional modules and replace them, on site, in less than 30 minutes. The modular concept, which means that ESTL can be adapted to various threats, is unique.”

In its standard form, ESTL is a missile shaped container with capacity to hold Saab’s missile warning system and countermeasures. So despite being a new product, all of ESTL’s functions have been combat proven on aircraft throughout the world. BOL, for example, is a world leading launcher that has given rise to the U.S. Navy’s definition of requirements: “BOL-like capability”.

In its basic form ESTL consist of:

  • BOL, an electro-mechanical launcher, containing 160 decoys that are launched to prevent missiles from locking on to the target. The packs, containing a spontaneously combustible material, disintegrate as they are dispersed into the air to form a cloud of infra-red energy greater than that of the aircraft. For the missile, the decoy becomes more enticing than the intended target.
  • BOP is a pyrotechnic dispenser that can launch rocket-powered flares. Gases from the flare provide sufficient energy to propel the flare forward.
  • MAW, a missile warning system consisting of a number of sensors, which together detect threats in the airspace.