Elbit announced Monday that it had reached a deal to outfit the Blackhawk helicopters of the air force of an unnamed Asian country with its aerial laser defense system.
With its purchase of the MUSIC system, that army will protect its aircraft from attacks using shoulder-launched missiles and RPGs, like the one featured in the 2001 film Black Hawk Down, as well as from real-life attacks, like the one that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine last summer, killing nearly 300 people
While there was speculation that the country in question was Japan – given that a large delegation of Japanese business and government officials were in Israel this week accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – a spokesperson for the company said otherwise.
“These matters are very sensitive, and we respect the privacy of our customers. But I can definitively tell you that the customer is not Japan,” the spokesperson said.
The Blackhawk version of the Elbit‘s MUSIC (multi-spectral infrared counter measure) DIRCM (Directional Infrared Counter Measures) system, called mini-MUSIC, is just one of a variation of a technology introduced by the company in 2009 to protect commercial and military aircraft from attacks by terrorists using shoulder-to-air missiles, known as MANPADs (man-portable missiles). Using a sophisticated radar system, MUSIC tracks incoming MANPADs and deflects them using a very powerful laser beam. The system can be installed in various parts of the plane, and is easy to operate, with no special training needed.
The impetus for the development of MUSIC came in 2002, when terrorists in Kenya fired a missile at an Israeli plane. It was part of a multi-pronged attack in which 13 people died when terrorists bombed an Israeli-owned hotel. Terrorists fired two Strela 2 (SA-7) shoulder-launched missiles at an Arkia-chartered plane, but the attack laid bare all too clearly the vulnerability of commercial planes to terror attacks.
The Israeli government announced a program called Sky Shield, and asked companies to propose ideas to defend planes from missile attacks. El-Op, a division of Israel’s Elbit – one of the country’s foremost aviation and electronics technology companies – developed the MUSIC system, first testing it in 2013. The first MUSIC systems – called C (for commercial) – was deployed on an El Al 737 plane that year.
The Kenya attack was a real-life iteration of the attack on an American military helicopter in the 2001 Ridley Scott film “Black Hawk Down.” In the film, Somali rebels shoot down a Blackhawk helicopter belonging to the US that was in Somalia on a peacekeeping mission, killing crew members and attempting to take the survivors prisoner.
The film was the first Hollywood portrayal of a type of military attack that had become increasingly prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s. But with more powerful and accurate MANPADs, the problem became acute after the turn of the century, with the Kenya attack considered a watershed by defense experts.
The MUSIC system has garnered a great deal of interest in the world , since it was the first on-board system that could be controlled by pilots to defend aircraft as needed, preventing attacks that radar on the ground or military planes might not detect until it was too late. Elbit has developed systems for various Boeing planes, as well as military aircraft in the Italian Air Force, the Brazilian Air Force, and the German Air Force. Numerous systems have also been installed on private and corporate jets, Elbit said.
If anyone had doubts of the need for such a system, those doubts evaporated last summer, when a Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down, allegedly by Ukrainian separatists using a Buk surface-to-air missile. Two hundred ninety eight people were killed in that attack, and since then, the company said, it has gotten “many” orders for MUSIC systems.
Commenting on the deal, Adi Dar, General Manager of Elbit Systems’ Electro-optics-Elop Ltd., said, “In addition to being selected by a new customer, this award represents the inclusion of a new platform, the Blackhawk, to the broad portfolio of platforms already equipped with our unique DIRCM systems including our MUSIC version for small platforms such as helicopters. Based on the growing demand for DIRCM as the preferred solution by customers worldwide, we hope that additional customers will follow and select our systems.”