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Gripen C-D dispensing flares

The art of pre-emptive protection

4 min read

How do countermeasure dispensing systems protect military aircrafts? What are the new and future developments in this field? We caught up with Dario De Michela from Saab’s business unit Electronic Warfare Systems.

First, explain what countermeasure dispensing systems (CMDS) are!

Military fixed and rotary wing aircrafts face the risk of being shot down by heat-seeking or radar guided missiles. To protect them and the crew, aircrafts are equipped with self-protection systems, including Countermeasures Dispensing Systems (CMDS). These systems are loaded with various kinds of decoys, depending on what kind of threat that is anticipated. By using a combination of different decoys and dispensers, the aircraft’s survivability is significantly enhanced. Saab´s dispensers come in two main categories: pyrotechnical and electromechanical.

What does your job involve?

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Dario De Michela, Saab's business unit Electronic Warfare Systems

My job involves dealing with Saab’s customers and partners in different countries, mainly Italy, France, Germany, UK and South Africa, providing CMDS and electronic warfare solutions to fit their requirements.
I primarily focus on the marketing and commercial portion of the business with the help of a team of colleagues from various disciplines, including engineering, project, quality and production.

I really enjoy working in an international environment, learning different cultures and ways of doing business, trying to think out from the box. The negotiation part of the selling process is my favorite task.
The target is always to increase customer satisfaction in order to grow our business relationship.

Explain how pyrotechnical dispensers work.

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Saab CMDS on AS332 Super Puma, dispensing flares

Pyrotechnical dispensers are deployed by a firing signal to an explosive cartridge - a squib, which dispenses the decoys.
Saab’s pyrotechnical CMDS product family is called BOP and it can be equipped with different type of decoys: flare, chaff and the advanced Electronic Active Decoy (EAD). BOP is one of the first dispensers for fixed wing aircraft capable of forward firing, which has proved to provide much more effective protection against modern infrared threats.
A pyrotechnical dispenser is generally used in a reactive mode when a threat is detected and approaching the aircraft.

And what about electromechanical dispensers?

This dispenser type uses an electromechanical mechanism to deploy the decoy. The fact that it does not have a squib or cartridge means it is very safe to handle.

Saab is unique to provide this kind of dispenser. Our electromechanical CMDS product family is called BOL. Each BOL unit can contain as many as 160 chaffs or pyrophoric expendable decoys, which is a lot compared to most other pyrotechnical dispensers, which typically contain 30 to 40 decoys.

Using a smart mix of decoys, BOP and BOL break the lock-on of infrared or radar guided missile seekers, which prevents the aircraft from being shot down. Installed together on the same platform, the countermeasures raise the aircraft’s survivability to the next level, keeping the pilots safe.

Gripen dispensing chaff from BOL EW pod
Gripen dispensing chaff

What difference does it make having so many decoys?

Having a BOL with a large number of decoys, the pilot can start dispensing pre-emptively before encountering a threat, which is a very effective form of protection: acting first instead of having to react later when a missile is already approaching the aircraft.

The pre-emptive capability means the opponent’s missile seeker will have problems locking on to the aircraft in the first place.

What future CMDS capabilities are Saab looking at?

Right now we are developing our next generation of smart BOP dispensers, which can communicate with the decoys during the mission and shoot the expendables in different directions. This enables the system or the pilot to dynamically change the dispensing directions in a threat response situation.
We are also further optimising the electromechanical BOL dispenser, working on a new way to install the dispenser on the inside of various aircraft structures, to further reduce drag and eliminating any contribution to the radar cross section.

Which platforms are using Saab’s countermeasures dispensers?

We have a long history of providing CMDS capabilities, in fact BOP and BOL are used worldwide on different military airplane and helicopter platforms.
Some examples include all Saab’s Gripen variants, Eurofighter Typhoon, Panavia Tornado, some Boeing F-18 & F-15 and various types of helicopters.

Gripen CD with BOP dispensing flares
Saab 2000 AEWC

Want to know more?

Find out more about our countermeasures dispensing systems.