Pioneering a new approach to Air Platform Protection

01 April 2022

The recognition of Leonardo experts in the New Year’s Vice Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation award – for their contribution to the Strategic Partnering Arrangement with the UK MOD to further protect the nation’s military aircraft – is more evidence of the company’s trailblazing work to keep aircrews and their aircraft protected on operations around the world. Leonardo’s Wayne Smith explains how the company is building upon a century’s heritage and expertise designing and producing high-tech air platform protection solutions.

The announcement in September 2021 that Leonardo and the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) had agreed the Strategic Partnering Arrangement placed the company at the forefront of plans to develop next generation air platform protection equipment for UK military aircraft.

Based on our unparalleled knowledge and experience in the area of air platform protection, we are continuing to develop technology that will provide common protective systems for UK military aircraft to operate with confidence in today’s and future, contested air environments. It will also allow crews to respond with agility and speed to emerging threats from multiple sources. Ultimately, it is about interoperability – not only between sub-systems, but also the broader network-enabled mission to optimise and maximise freedom of manoeuvre in a hostile environment.

Building a broader battlespace picture

Historically, air platform protection has been achieved by multiple sensors working towards a common overarching objective, but not necessarily in synchronised harmony. For example, a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), would alert the aircrew that they may need to activate an electronic jamming pod or dispense chaff. Should a missile be fired towards the aircraft, a different warning on a different display would be generated, adding further information input for the aircrew to assimilate and action.

However, Leonardo’s Modular Advanced Platform Protection System (MAPPS) provides a common platform directed through a controller that moderates and controls the whole system. By integrating disparate systems, a broader electronic battlespace picture can be built up, allowing the threat to be prioritised and appropriately countered in a synchronised manner.

MAPPS exploits the NATO Defensive Aids System (NDAS) standard that will be at the heart of the system when equipping UK fleets with these capabilities. The MAPPS approach is about creating a harmonised platform protection capability, utilising not only Leonardo’s own range of sensors and effectors, but also those of other companies, where appropriate. Bringing the whole thing together as an integrated system gives a far greater capability than the systems operating independently.

Modularity to meet tailored operational requirements

It’s important to recognise that Leonardo can provide specific solutions within the realm of air platform protection, as a result of MAPPS’s modular nature and common architecture. Rather than having to supply a pre-defined system, we provide solutions to address the customer’s specific requirements.

If an aircraft operator is operating in an environment with no radar threat, they will not need a radar threat countermeasure solution, but they may require an infra-red (IR) missile warning system and a Directed Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) such as Leonardo’s Miysis, for instance. Equally, if it deemed there is no IR missile threat, the system can focus on Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and RWR capability like Leonardo’s SAGE and SEER assets instead, along with expendable active decoys such as BriteCloud and on-board jamming systems.

Made in the UK, sold to the world

For the UK, having an onshore developed capability is crucial. Having the best air platform protection possible and ensuring survivability is of highest priority, while freedom of action means the UK is in control of its own self-protection countermeasure capabilities.

It is not just UK platforms that Leonardo’s technology solutions will be implemented on; thanks to NDAS compliance, we anticipate that our protective systems will continue to enhance fleets of aircraft around the world. This is about future-proofing and delivering standardisation across the industry, and will result in ease of capability integration for UK armed forces and allies, while reducing integration costs.

Through the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, US) and other agreements, partner nations that share similar requirements will also benefit from this strategy, gaining outstanding UK air platform protection capabilities and enabling even greater levels of information sharing.

Driving a new way of working

Although the Strategic Partnership Arrangement is in its infancy, the commendation by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff in the 2022 New Year’s Honours List reflects the huge success that has already been achieved in aligning Leonardo’s product roadmap with the RAF’s future requirements.

The team was rewarded for being a trailblazing example of a transformational, proactive approach, which has enabled the MOD to embark on a new way to develop, deliver and support critical air survivability solutions.

As part of the future direction of next-generation air platform protection principles, the RAF announced in November 2021 plans for a £110m upgrade of its fleet of Shadow surveillance aircraft

This programme includes the implementation of Leonardo’s MAPPS including Miysis DIRCM. Benefiting from a spiral development approach, the MAPPS programme will leverage from, and contribute to, other programmes such as Tempest and Typhoon, driving economies of scale and greater integration between these high technology programmes.

Looking ahead, we will continue to work very closely with UK MOD to ensure coherence and alignment between requirement and best-in-class capability delivery to keep our aircrews safe.


Air Platform Protection

Leonardo has more than a century's heritage and expertise designing and producing air platform protection solutions that keep aircrews and their aircraft safe around the world.

Air Platform Protection