New training system helps aircraft crews defend against ground-fired missiles

A Soldier uses the Man-Portable Aircraft Survivability Trainer as an M176 Pyrotechnic Simulator launches in the background. (U.S. Army photo)

A Soldier uses the Man-Portable Aircraft Survivability Trainer as an M176 Pyrotechnic Simulator launches in the background. (U.S. Army photo)

By Eric Kowal, Picatinny Arsenal Public Affairs

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — Army engineers have developed an advanced system to train aircraft crews to protect aircraft and crewmembers against threats such as shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles.

Since the Vietnam War, such anti-aircraft missiles, especially those known as man portable anti aircraft missiles or MANPADS, have played a critical role in the shooting down military aircraft and their crews.

In order to enable aircraft and crews to survive these missile threats, the U.S. military has developed and deployed a continuously improving suite of aircraft survivability equipment , or ASE assets, that include electronic jammers, lasers and counter-measure flares.

These ASE assets have proven to be very effective at decoying or destroying these threat MANPADS, said James Wejsa, chief of the Pyrotechnic Technology and Prototyping Division of the U. S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.

However, there has been no significant development and deployment of any realistic improvements in aircraft MANPAD threat training. That is about to change, as Army researchers complete the new system called Man-Portable Aircraft Survivability Trainer. Picatinny engineers said the system is entering the production and fielding support phase.

“This is a realistic training system that we are very excited to be a part of developing and fielding for use in training our aviators,” Wejsa said. “These MANPAD threats are real and very deadly to combat and combat support aircraft if not properly protected.”

The training system allows aviators to train in a more realistic missile engagement environment and improve their ability to detect and avoid threat missiles.

“The net result is increased aviator readiness and subsequent survivability for the crews and their aircraft,” Wejsa said.

The trainer resembles a shoulder-fired surface-to-air weapon. Engineers designed the system to electronically stimulate the aircraft’s missile warning system, which may dispense countermeasure flares and activate other aircraft survivability systems.

The trainer records video for after-action reviews to supplement pilot training, and to help aircraft crews to train in detecting, evading and countering missile engagements.

Before, training required trainees to act as role players, Training scenarios had the opposing force use spent Soviet-era MANPADS hulls that were modified with a Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System or MILES.

The older training system used a type of unrealistic local flash with a loud bang and a small flash and provided absolutely no aircraft survivability equipment or beneficial training for the pilots, Tate said.
With the new trainer, an actual training round simulating a MANPAD missile is fired, sending a smoke trail through the air. The Common Missile Warning System notifies the pilot that a missile engagement has occurred.

The part of the system that provides the pyrotechnic signature to simulate a missile launch and contrail approaching the aircraft is called the Weapon Effects Signature Simulator, or WESS.

The simulator launches a M176, self-consuming pyrotechnic pellet vertically up to about 550 feet.
The result is a continuous, concentrated smoke cloud from the ground to a safe altitude simulating a MANPADS contrail signature and a visual stimulation for both the helicopter crew as well as ground forces.

The entire WESS system is lightweight and can easily be carried one Soldier, and small enough to be thrown into a backpack.

Also, because of the visual signature, if there are multiple helicopters in a convoy, one can move in to attack the ground threat, call in ground troops to attack the threat, or they can just evade the scene to avoid the threat.

“Without the visual effects of the M176 pyrotechnic pellet, the helicopter crews would not see where the threat was coming from and would just get an audio alarm from CMWS notifying them that they were fired upon,” said John Verdonik, project lead, Pyrotechnic Division, ARDEC.

This older training scenario would not provide a realistic training scenario as the crews cannot either evade or attack a threat they cannot see, he said.

“With the M176 smoke trail, the aviation crews also train to get use to reacting to the realistic sight of being fired upon by MANPADS,” Verdonik said.

Without the visual realistic effect in training, the first time the aircrews would see the smoke contrail of a MANPADS attack would be in theater of operations.

“Seeing the missile attack for the first time in a real threat environment is the worst-case scenario because vital seconds would be wasted recognizing the attack for what it is,” Verdonik said. “Those seconds could be the difference between life or death.”

Also integrated on the Man-Portable Aircraft Survivability Trainer is the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, which notifies trainees how many injuries or deaths occur would have occurred, or if the missile is evaded.

“Right now there is no realistic training,” Verdonik said. “That is one of the biggest threats. They (aircraft crews) are dependent on counter measure flares. As a Soldier you don’t want to be in theater and see this for the first time. The realism of training will help prepare for real-life threats. The Army motto is, ‘Train as we fight.'”

The Pyro Division recently earned a Type Classification Standard of the M176, the process that ensures the materiel is acceptable for production and U.S. Army use before being cleared for full materiel release.

The project is a joint effort ARDEC’s Pyrotechnics Division as well as Project Manager Aircraft Survivability Equipment and the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronics Warfare and Sensors and PEO Simulators and Training.


This article appears in the March/April 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on aviation research. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.

The Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness–technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment–to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.