TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- A 507th Air Refueling Wing KC-135 Stratotanker here is fulfilling a critical role within the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard in the testing and fielding efforts to employ an operational Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures-based pod defensive system.
The LAIRCM modification is designed to autonomously detect, provide warning and employ countermeasures against shoulder fired Man-portable air defense system missiles. Earlier LAIRCM versions are currently employed on other aircraft, such as the C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III, but it’s been in the works for more than five years for use on the KC-135.
According to Air Force Material Command KC-135 equipment specialist, Master Sgt. Anthony Burch, it’s been a long process because of documentation and safety related tasks involved in configuring the aircraft to use LAIRCM.
“When I became part of the program four years ago, it was the generation two pod and it’s evolved over the years to generation three,” Burch said. “As a result, we’re going to be the first Air Force platform to get the latest and greatest version of LAIRCM.”
The core mission of the KC-135 is to provide aerial refueling capabilities in order to maintain global reach for the U.S. Air Force, while serving a secondary mission of transporting patients during aeromedical evacuations. The aircraft can also transport up to 83,000 pounds of cargo, depending on fuel storage configuration.
“The main purpose of the LAIRCM system is to save the aircraft and all personnel inside,” Burch said. “With LAIRCM on the KC-135, we can actually get closer to the fight because it offers protection against adversaries. The aerial refueling tracks can be closer to the fighter jets to reduce the time it takes for them to refuel and get back to the mission.”
According to the KC-135 LAIRCM Program Office manager here, Raymond Berhalter, the new LAIRCM system is portable, modular and transferable to maximize flexibility in utilization, and can be installed on an aircraft in approximately 10 minutes.
When installed on the aircraft, the LAIRCM system can identify missile threats and defeat them, according to Berhalter. The missile-warning sensor detects a missile, while an onboard computer determines whether the missile is a threat to the aircraft.
If a threat is imminent, the tracker locks onto the missile and fires a laser to defeat the threat. The process is automatic and only takes a few seconds.
“Although many platforms have various forms of LAIRCM, the KC-135 is the first operational U.S. Air Force aircraft to field the latest configuration of LAIRCM; the LAIRCM Block 30,” Berhalter said. “Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command and the National Guard Bureau will determine which aircraft will receive the modification and deployment of the mission kits.”
AFRC’s National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation program manager, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Kissire, said that timing of future ANG and AFRC KC-135 LAIRCM modifications will be determined once testing is complete and the production contract is awarded.
The effort is a result of critical requirements identified at both the Air National Guard Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) and Air Force Reserve Combat Planning Council (CPC), according to Kissire.
“The 507th’s role in the KC-135 LAIRCM program is a perfect example of warfighters helping to meet a warfighter driven requirement,” he said. “The combined efforts of the KC-135 System Program Office, the ANG, the AFRC Test Center and AFRC ensure that our Reserve Citizen Airmen remain relevant and ready for emerging challenges ahead.”
The 507th Air Refueling Wing operates and maintains eight KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft in support of Air Mobility Command, providing world-wide aerial refueling to U.S. and NATO aircraft in times of peace, war and national emergency.
AMC manages an inventory of 398 KC-135 Stratotankers, of which the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard fly 247 aircraft in support of AMC's mission. AMC is comprised of a Total Force effort to execute rapid global mobility and enable global reach; the ability to respond anywhere in the world in a matter of hours.
In addition to enabling the force to respond to an enemy attack and sustain operations, rapid global mobility brings humanitarian supplies and assistance to those in need who may live in austere locations.