“We want to really own the threat and try our best to mitigate it by using technology such as our Miysis system.” This is what drives Leonardo Capability Manager, Dr John Maclean, and his team of engineers to design protective solutions for aircrews and platforms around the world.
Based on a defence engineering heritage dating back to the 1940s, Leonardo’s Edinburgh site is today at the forefront of developing and manufacturing Directed Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) systems for customers around the world.
“The passion for engineering is definitely in Leonardo’s DNA,” says John, who is the lead technologist for Miysis DIRCM assembly and delivery. “Today’s operations are underpinned by a proud technological heritage which has been developed over the past eight decades. This is demonstrated by generations of engineers staying with the company, with many families of multiple generations making up our engineering department in Edinburgh. As a result, we’re seeing them evolving the technology, then passing it on from generation to generation. It is our duty at Leonardo to pass that legacy on – in our products and to the next generation of engineers.”
Engaging our communities of interest
To fully understand the current and evolving threat scenario presented by MANPADS (Man-portable air-defence systems), and develop the most appropriate solutions, Leonardo’s engineers engage in ongoing dialogue with the defence science and technology community in the UK, NATO and other allied nations.
“This helps inform our decisions as part of our significant investment in research and development, and assures our DIRCM capability to the most stringent standards possible (from lab to live fire),” says Campaign Manager, Alastair McFarland. “These regular engagements provide us with a clear steer about which areas of the system we need to concentrate on to best protect the aircraft and deal with future threats, and have directly helped us to jam faster and jam harder than ever before.
“To increase overall survivability and ultimately bring pilots back safely, we are marching in step with the customer the whole way. This enables us to understand how best to integrate Miysis on a new platform; identify the best location to maximise the DIRCM’s impact and coverage; and support the flight testing and commissioning phase – all of which is about helping our customers complete a mission safely and successfully.”
Unified design solution
As a result of the open architecture principles applied to the Miysis DIRCM development, the system can be integrated with a range of other aircraft systems and platforms – both in-service and new – such as different types of missile-warning system or Defensive Aid Suites.
Furthermore, one of Miysis’s defining aspects is that it is the smallest, lightest and least power-hungry DIRCM system on the market.
“We’ve designed it in a way for it to be able to cover the full range of platform types – from small rotary-wing up to jet transport. This evolution of technology is derived from the knowledge Leonardo has gained in developing various systems including DIRCM systems. This has focused us in identifying how best to improve the overall system solution and allowed us to get such a high amount of energy in such a small package,” according to John.
He stresses that the focus is not purely on building up the technology itself, but also with a strong emphasis on test equipment. “It can often be forgotten that once you have the system, you must also be able to effectively test it before it goes to trials, ensuring it is optimised against the threat characteristics that you want to explore in all areas of the environment.”
As part of this, Leonardo has built a unique system integration lab within its Edinburgh facility, which combines both simulated threat missile manoeuvres and representative aircraft/platform motion. This enables the company to test the DIRCM system in a full range of operational conditions, before going into live fire trials when the equipment goes into the field and demonstrates its effectiveness, both in tracking and defeating the range of different threat missiles.
Embracing engineering diversity
To encourage its engineers to constantly strive for knowledge and new technological breakthroughs, Leonardo’s structure means that most of its engineering disciplines are a cross-fertilisation between projects. This results in engineers on one project gaining a taste of working on a different project, and bringing their knowledge and experience.
This is supplemented by the use of Integrated Project Teams (IPT) on larger projects, whereby multiple disciplines collaborate on a single focus project. This enables ideas and information from all the engineering disciplines to come together, making best use of their combined experience and talents.
“Optimisation of a system brings in creativity. The essence of engineering is solving a very technical problem in a creative way, that is both robust and sustainable,” says John.
“Having different perspectives really helps – through age, gender and even personality types; some people are very passionate, while others are more creative, logical and focused. Rather than these differences generating possible areas of conflict, they actually bring out the best discussions, by exploring the widest possible range of options and design solutions.
“We often find that not only do those joining us on an industrial placement or as part of our apprenticeship and graduate schemes gain real insight when they get to work on some of our world-leading technology, but that their fresh perspective on a challenge helps improve our approach to finding the best solution.”
The pursuit of excellence
“Ultimately,” explains Alastair, “our ruthless pursuit of engineering excellence is all about saving the lives of those who fly into harm’s way.”
This is evidenced by the long-term commitment of many of our experts at Leonardo. Like John, many of his engineering colleagues have been with the company for several decades, resulting in them forging a personal stake in the technology they are developing, and building up a personal undertaking to produce the most effective and robust DIRCM system possible.
“It’s a matter of professional pride,” he says, pointing to the development of high powered laser and gimbal systems for targeting, surveillance and navigation, along with many Leonardo products that involve high technology imaging properties. “All that collective knowledge and experience has been brought forward into the Miysis DIRCM system from previous projects.”
“As responsive as you need to be in dealing with these threats, it can be a case where every day counts in the thinking of what we’re doing,” adds Alastair. “The people who do it and the energy they put into their work really broadcasts how amazing they are as individuals. The depth of knowledge you can witness when our people describe what they’re doing, the benefit it brings, and why we should invest time, money and effort in saving lives, is really quite inspiring. It’s an energising workplace to step into.”