The Multi Aperture InfraRed (MAIR) system is the newest and most advanced aircraft protection solution yet to emerge from Leonardo’s extensive R&D and continual improvement of infrared search and track (IRST) technology. A uniquely refined system which highlights only genuine threats to an aircraft while disregarding the clutter competing devices sometimes pick up, MAIR’s innovative re-use of Leonardo’s proven IRST technologies allows the company to offer market-leading capabilities in an affordably-priced package. Giorgio Balzarotti, VP IRST Programmes, reveals more to MON.
MON: What benefits does MAIR offer to operators?
GB: MAIR is a multiple distributed camera system, primarily designed to automatically detect and track threats such as opposing aircraft and incoming missiles, as well as providing hostile fire indication. It incorporates 4-10 infrared cameras, strategically situated around an aircraft to provide up to 360° coverage.
As a complimentary function, the set of seamlessly-fused images collated from the cameras also provides spherical day and night imaging, boosting a pilot’s situational awareness and providing an aid to navigation and landing, with an option for MAIR to send this visual imagery to a pilot’s helmet-mounted display.
MON: How does MAIR, a threat warner intended for a range of platforms, relate to IRST technology, typically designed for combat aircraft?
GB: MAIR is a product of our decades of research and investment into IRST technology for combat aircraft, a domain in which Leonardo can proudly claim to be amongst the best in the world. An IRST is a sensor system which targets opponents by detecting, identifying and tracking their heat emissions in the infrared (IR) spectrum. Leonardo supplies advanced IRST systems from our site in Nerviano, Italy, which include the PIRATE IRST for the Eurofighter TYPHOON – which we provide in partnership with Tecnobit and Thales UK – and the SKYWARD-G IRST for the GRIPEN E – an entirely Leonardo product.
Having spent several years making iterative improvements to the hardware and software of our IRST products, we are now turning this targeting technology towards platform protection. This innovative re-use has two main benefits. The first is that we have access to some highly sophisticated algorithms which we have refined based on years of feedback from combat operations. It would take a competitor a long time to create such effective software from scratch, so we have a head start on the market in terms of pure capability, particularly in the field of IR technology, where we are domain leaders. The second is that, because we are building on previous investments, we can offer MAIR as a highly-affordable option for a whole range of platform types.
MON: What makes MAIR different from competing threat warners?
GB: MAIR draws on our IRST experience and our years of investment in improving the technology to ensure that it delivers highly responsive, accurate and long-range recognition of threats, with a very low false alarm rate. While some competing systems struggle to differentiate genuine threats from ‘thermal clutter,’ or fail to recognise individual threats when they are in close formation, MAIR provides reassuringly reliable alerts.
MON: How would MAIR typically be incorporated into a protection system?
GB: MAIR can be used as a stand-alone threat warning system, or can be simply and effectively integrated with a range of countermeasures into a defensive aids suite. One such defensive system is Leonardo’s MIYSIS Directed InfraRed Countermeasure (DIRCM), which uses a laser to divert incoming heat-seeking missiles away from the aircraft. By combining MAIR with a system like MIYSIS, a pilot can enjoy automatic protection from these threats, with MAIR automatically detecting, tracking, classifying and declaring an incoming missile, before passing targeting data over to the DIRCM system which then defeats the threat.
International armed forces have responded with interest to the launch of MAIR, because of its capabilities and flexibility. Its low size, weight and power (SWaP) characteristics mean that MAIR can equip aircraft ranging from small unmanned platforms through to helicopters and light combat aircraft. The system can be provided in a podded solution or distributed around the aircraft, depending on the requirement.
MON: When will MAIR be available?
GB: We are ready to take orders today. MAIR is at an advanced stage of development, with airborne trials already conducted on a rotary-wing test-bed platform, as well as simulations and full RIG integration. Trials have confirmed the system’s uniquely-accurate detection capabilities and low false-alarm rate against backgrounds including urban, industrial and coastal areas. Discussions with a number of potential customers are ongoing, with first contracts expected in 2020, as operator demand for the latest protection systems has remained buoyant during the coronavirus crisis. We are forecasting a strong order book for MAIR over the next few years, especially as more and more customers are able to see the system in action for themselves.