Leonardo BriteCloud
Leonardo BriteCloud (@ Leonardo Company)

Leonardo and General Atomics are working together to bring the BriteCloud expendable active decoy to operators of the MQ-9 remotely-piloted aircraft system

Leonardo and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) are working together to bring the world-class protection offered by Leonardo’s BriteCloud expendable active decoy to operators of the MQ-9 remotely-piloted aircraft system (RPAS). The joint activity is addressing the growing market need to protect the high-value unmanned aircraft from modern, radar-guided threats as they carry out their missions.

Progress has already been made, with a number of BriteCloud rounds successfully launched from an MQ-9 in an aircraft survivability ‘carriage and release’ trial, designed to ensure that the decoy can be dispensed safely from the platform’s new Self-Protect Pod. Discussions are underway concerning further tests with live rounds to demonstrate that BriteCloud can effectively protect the MQ-9 against the most advanced radio frequency (RF) threats.

BriteCloud is a next-generation decoy, protecting aircraft from the latest radar-guided threats. The world’s first, and currently only, such product proven to work effectively, BriteCloud packs sophisticated jamming technology into a package the size of a drinks can, allowing it to be fired from an aircraft in the same manner as a flare. Designed and manufactured in the UK, it was first adopted for service by the Royal Air Force following an extensive testing campaign. As a unique capability, it is now being evaluated by the US Armed Forces under the US Foreign Comparative Test (FCT) programme.

BriteCloud is available in different variants for a range of aircraft types. BriteCloud 218 (2x1x8 inch ‘brick’ round) is the version compatible with the MQ-9’s dispensing system and is also suitable for US-manufactured combat jets such as the F-15 and F-16. Meanwhile, the BriteCloud 55 variant is suitable for 55mm round-format dispensers on aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen E and Tornado GR4. A third variant, 55-T, is currently under development for transport aircraft and helicopters.

BriteCloud employs Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) jamming technology, considered the ‘gold standard’ of protection against radar-guided surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. This technology allows the BriteCloud round to sense and process incoming radar signals and, in response, develop and transmit a highly-convincing electronic ‘ghost’ signal, fooling threat radars into following the decoy rather than the aircraft.

First live launch of Leonardo’s BriteCloud 218 decoy from Airbus target drone is a success, say German Armed Forces

A recent trial, which saw the German Armed Forces launching a Leonardo BriteCloud 218 decoy from an Airbus RPATS test platform, to evaluate its potential in protecting flying weapon systems from radar-guided missiles, has been heralded as a success. The trial, which was conducted with support from Airbus, Leonardo and the German analysis and testing firm IABG, saw live BriteCloud 218 rounds ejected from the RPATS during flight, allowing the aircraft to successfully evade missiles equipped with Semi-Active Radar (SAR) seeker technology.

The German trial marked the first time BriteCloud has been launched from an RPATS platform. With the trend towards remotely-piloted air systems becoming increasingly valuable assets, attention is turning to protecting them from attack. BriteCloud, which does not require integration, is a cost-effective way to equip such assets with latest-generation jamming capabilities. The decoy is dramatically more effective than traditional chaff countermeasures (radar-reflecting foil), with its on-board computer deploying the latest electronic warfare techniques to protect from modern threats.

The BriteCloud 218-variant rounds used during the trial pack this technology into a standard-sized rectangular countermeasure casing measuring two by one by eight inches. This means it is compatible with a range of common dispensers such as the AN/ALE-47, making it possible to economically boost the defences of older F-series jets such as the F-15 and F-16, as well as smaller RPAS platforms.

BriteCloud 218 is also currently undergoing the United States Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) programme, led by the US Air National Guard (ANG), which could lead to the decoy entering service with the United States Air Force (USAF) Air Combat Command and other US services. Meanwhile, Leonardo’s original BriteCloud 55 decoy (which is slightly larger and compatible with round 55mm flare dispensers such as those on the Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen), has already gone into active service with the UK’s Royal Air Force.