Self-protection systems and electronic countermeasures: how to protect crews and platforms

To achieve full information superiority and target acquisition capabilities, it is now necessary to be able to call upon an array of self-protection systems and active and passive electronic countermeasures for each type of platform and crew.

In the air, land and naval domains, alongside conventional systems, operational forces have always tried to make strategic use of the electromagnetic spectrum to their advantage. By jamming enemy frequencies and radar signals, electronic attack is aimed at acquiring total control over the operational scenario. Given the high sophistication of current technologies, this type of attack can now be generated across all domains, including cyber and space, targeting communications, radar, radio and infrared systems.

Putting the enemy at a tactical and strategic disadvantage is essential to the success of any mission. To give operational forces full information superiority and an almost total capability for target acquisition, Leonardo has developed a range of self-protection systems and active and passive electronic countermeasures for disrupting and neutralising incoming threats, creating an effective defensive shield to protect aircrews and air, sea and land assets. These systems are able to operate in increasingly complex environments, and are also essential in safeguarding critical assets and infrastructure.


Leonardo’s solutions for the air domain enable operators to respond to and neutralise any possible threats rapidly and with precision. Individual sensors, integrated suites of aircraft self-defence measures (DAS – Defensive Aids System), and fully dedicated operational support to electronic protection systems (Electronic Warfare Operational Support - EWOS) provide assured surveillance and protection for aircraft and crews.

Historically, the protection of airborne platforms has always been ensured by multiple sensors ‘working’ towards a common objective, but not necessarily in harmony. MAPPS (Modular Advanced Platform Protection System), on the other hand, is a solution that uses a controller to moderate and control the entire system of sensors and effectors. By integrating different systems, MAPPS creates a broader picture of the electronic battlespace, enabling the threat to be prioritised and countered in an appropriate and synchronised way.

The need for protection can take various forms. If an aircraft is operating in an environment that is free of radar threats, it may not need a countermeasure against radar threats but may, on the other hand, require an infrared (IR) missile warning system and a directed infra-red countermeasure (DIRCM) such as Miysis. Likewise, if no infrared missile threat is believed to be present, the system may focus on Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) capabilities, such as the SAGE and SEER assets, together with expandable active decoys such as BriteCloud and other on-board jamming systems.

Passive Infrared Search & Track (IRST) systems support air-to-air and air-to-surface missions with long-range target identification and tracking capabilities. These include the Skyward IRST, a long-range passive electro-optical sensor: it does not emit any signals when operational and can detect the heat signatures of enemy avionics systems without being identified itself, providing a significant tactical advantage in airborne operations. Installed on board fifth-generation fighter aircraft, it provides valuable support in the detection and tracking of hostile targets including aircraft, ships and vehicles. The system also ensures significant counter-stealth capabilities, i.e., the ability to detect aircraft that are invisible to radar. Used alone or in conjunction with other aircraft sensors it enables the accurate tracking of complex, long-range targets even beyond the field of vision. Today, an IRST is an essential device on modern fighter aircraft, and will be even more crucial to sixth-generation air combat systems.

Of the infrared alarm systems available, MAIR (Multiple Aperture InfraRed) has the ability to detect and track a threat along its entire trajectory, ensuring a higher probability of neutralisation. This lightweight and “smart” system offers a very low rate of false alarms even in ‘noisy’ scenarios. It also has Hostile Fire Indication capabilities, i.e. the ability to give pilots information on the origin of even minor dangers. It has the distinctive feature of being able to project a video ‘sphere’ all around the platform – on the pilot's helmet or the cockpit display – greatly improving awareness of the operational theatre.


Of the devices available to protect against infrared guided missiles, the Miysis DIRCM (Directed InfraRed Counter Measure) can be installed on various types of aircraft and helicopters (from business jets to transport aircraft). This countermeasure can be operated autonomously, linked to a missile warning system, or integrated with other defence suites. It works by aiming a high-powered laser at a missile's firing system, effectively blinding it and deflecting it from multiple targets simultaneously.

The SAGE sensor, with its built-in Radar Warning Receiver, is able to detect, identify and geo-locate signals at radio frequency such as fire-control radar, enhancing the overall tactical picture and situational awareness. It can be configured for all platforms, including uncrewed aircraft.

The BriteCloud 55 is the most advanced electronic countermeasure providing protection against radar-guided missiles. Thanks to its sophisticated Digital Radio Frequency Memory technology, the device emits an electronic ‘ghost’ signal that diverts incoming missiles and prevents the threat from ‘understanding’ both the speed and distance of the target. Flexible and reprogrammable, it has been developed to protect fighter aircraft using 55mm launchers (like those installed on the Tornado, Eurofighter Typhoon and Gripen), thus increasing the safety of the crew and aircraft.

Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) systems give crews the additional ability to recognise both friendly and potentially hostile forces in real time through the exchange of encrypted signals.

The IFF 428 identification transponder, which has already been integrated with other systems on the AW169s of the GdF (Guardia di Finanza) to provide the platform with increased protection and surveillance, is the state-of-the-art system designed by Leonardo in the IFF sector. By sending an interrogation signal to unidentified platforms, IFF technology enables the effective recognition of allied forces, establishing greater operational security.

Confirming its leadership in the sector, the company heads up the EURODASS consortium, also including Elettronica, Indra and Hensoldt, which has developed the Praetorian DASS (Defensive Aids Sub-System). The system strengthens Typhoon's ability to evade and deceive air-to-air and ground-to-air threats, including infrared (IR or heat-seeking) and radar-guided missiles. It also incorporates sensors and jamming devices for electronic warfare and provides a high level of situational awareness and platform protection.