On a cool and cloudy morning, personnel from NAPMA, Force Command and the E-3A Component landed in Manching, Germany, for a ceremony in commemoration of the completion of the NATO E-3A Large Aircraft Infra-Red Counter Measures (LAIRCM) Retrofit Program.
The LAIRCM project to install a Northrop Grumman countermeasure system on the NATO E-3A AWACS started more than six years ago to upgrade the aircraft’s self-protection system. With the last E-3A retrofitted with LAIRCM, the component’s entire fleet is now standardized to defend itself against man-portable air defense weapons such as stingers.
The June 5 ceremony started with speeches, followed by the official transfer of the aircraft to Maj. Gen. Stephen Schmidt, who declared this LAIRCM fully operational. Gen. Schmidt then handed NL-17 back to Col. Paul Bell, E-3A Component Logistics Wing commander. Now while it was a typical ceremony, the impact LAIRCM has is tremendous.
“This critical capability is what enables our NATO AWACS fleet to operate in combat operations today and LAIRCM will keep us safe for a long time to come,” the general said.
LAIRCM, an autonomous defensive system, gives crews immediate situational awareness using an integrated display in the flight deck.
“It gives us the real protection we need to operate in a tough combat environment,” Gen. Schmidt said. “It allows us to get the job done safely every day.”
With the protection that LAIRCM provides, the component has been able to conduct more than 480 missions in support of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. LAIRCM is the key enabler which gives the E-3A the ability to conduct out-of-area operations anywhere at any time.
“It is the reason we are the only AWACS based in Afghanistan today,” the general said. “We would not have been based there for the last year without the ability to protect our NATO aircraft and our aircrew from the enemy.”