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ILA 2018: Towing the Line

Luftwaffe planning to integrate a towed decoy on Panavia Tornado fleet

Sources close to the Luftwaffe have told MONCh during the ILA Air Show being held in Berlin between 25 April and 29 April that the force is considering the integration of a towed decoy system onboard its combined Panavia Tornado-IDS combat aircraft and Tornado-ECR suppression of enemy air defence platform fleets.

The integration of such a capability would significantly enhance the aircraft’s self-protection. Towed decoys work to effectively outfox an incoming Air-to-Air Missile (AAM) or Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) away from the airframe by presenting a more tempting electromagnetic signature than the aircraft itself or emitting Radio Frequency (RF) energy to perform a several jamming tactics (see below), providing an added layer of self-protection beyond a combat aircraft’s standard chaff, flare and jamming subsystems.

Towed decoys first began to proliferate in the early 1980s following work undertaken by Tracor Aerospace. This led to the development by Raytheon of its AN/ALE-50 towed decoy which was deployed from 1995 on several airframes across the US armed forces and is now in service onboard the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet combat aircraft and the Rockwell International/Boeing B-1B Lancer strategic bomber. The decoy has been used operationally successfully defeating SAMs and AAMs, and seeing combat in the Afghan, Iraqi the Balkan theatres during US-led interventions there.

BAE Systems offers the ALE-55 which is also used by the F/A-18E/F and similarly works with the aircraft’s self-defence system to fox incoming missiles and lure them away from the airframe through the emission of RF energy. Generally speaking, towed decoys will use three approaches to defeating an incoming threat: suppression, deflection and seduction. Suppressive tactics will detect RF emissions either from the Active Radar Homing (ARH) seeker of the incoming missile or from the fire control radar guiding a Semi-Active Radar Homing (SARH) SAM and then perform Electronic Attack (EA) against these emitters. Deflection tactics are brought into play when a radar has achieved a lock on the aircraft with the aircraft’s self defence system analysing the hostile radar’s characteristics and then devising a scheme of electronic attack to jam the threat by using the decoy as an RF emitter. Finally, the seduction tactic sees the decoy emitting RF energy in such a way as to make the decoy appear a more tempting target than the aircraft, sacrificing itself in the process as the missile will hit and destroy this decoy as opposed to the platform.

Alongside both the ALE-50 and ALE-55, the Luftwaffe could have the option of integrating Rafael Advanced Defence System’s X-Guard towed decoy. This is designed to outfit an array of combat aircraft and emits RF energy using specific waveforms and propagation techniques to defeat ARH/SARH AAMs and SAMs. The X-Guard is positioned in a pod which can be carried on a combat aircraft’s fuselage or wing hardpoint, with the decoy being attached to the pod by means of a fibre optic cable of a classified length. Similarly, the frequencies at which the pod operates are classified, although it is reasonable to assume that these could encompass an array of X-band (8.5 gigahertz/GHz to 10.68GHz) and millimetre wave frequencies in the 13.4GHz to 36GHz range which includes a wide array of RF seeker heads and radars used by S/ARH SAMs and AAMs.

When not in use, the decoy can be reeled back into the pod, or alternatively jettisoned before an aircraft lands. Should the decoy be destroyed by a missile, a new decoy can be easily installed. While confirming that the X-Guard is operational, Rafael officials have demurred from stating upon which platforms, although indications on company literature reveal that the decoy can equip Dassault Mirage-2000 and SEPECAT Jaguar series combat aircraft, resulting in speculation that it may already be

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