LONDON — The Royal Air Force could be the first customer for a new radar-jamming anti-missile countermeasure following tests of the decoy on a Tornado strike jet.
The British arm of Finmeccanica said negotiations were underway with the British Ministry of Defence to supply their BriteCloud decoy following successful trials on a Tornado GR4 at a range in the United States in October.
"We're currently in talks to supply BriteCloud to the UK MoD. No further trials have taken place as the October tests were deemed successful, although it is likely that further trials will take place to verify and extend the operational advantage," said Jon McCullagh, the electronic warfare campaign manager at Finmeccanica's Airborne and Space Systems Division. "We are hopeful that the UK will be one of the first nations to carry the new decoys into operations."
A spokesman for Britain's MoD, however, said no decision on acquiring the capability had yet been taken.
"The MoD is currently planning a series of trials with the BriteCloud system, following very encouraging results from test flights in the USA in 2015. A decision on procurement will be taken in due course," he said.
Analysts said the move comes at a time when Russia has been developing a new generation of radar-guided missiles for domestic and export use.
BriteCloud is a self-contained unit the size of drinks can fitted with a battery-powered digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jammer. The company developed the system alongside the UK government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.
Finmeccanica said the decoy can be ejected from fighter aircraft in a straight swap for the existing 55mm flare to counter the threat from the latest air-to-air and surface-to-air radio frequency guided missiles.
Saab is already offering the decoy as an enhancement option for its range of Gripen fighters including the new "E" model due to be rolled out for the first time in mid-May.
McCullagh said the new decoy is not a replacement product for existing systems: "It's a complementary protective system. It offers a very quick-to-activate decoy capability in circumstances where other countermeasures may not be suitable or as effective."
British fast jets already have the capability to counter radar-guided missiles with towed radar decoys, but Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the London-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies, said it was possible they would use BriteCloud in conjunction with the older system.
"If you don't have a towed radar decoy already deployed, or you don't have time to deploy it, you could pop off a BriteCloud. It may also give you greater freedom to maneuver if your decoy is not connected to the aircraft by a fiber-optic cable," he said.
Barrie said radar-guided missiles have been around for a while, but now a new generation of weapons was being introduced by the Russians.
"The US and it's allies had a pretty good idea how to deal with the old Soviet-era systems used by Iraq and Libya, but the SA-17 Grizzly missile operated by the Syrians is a much more modern radar-guided missile and would have constituted a considerable handful had the regime's use of chemical weapons triggered airstrikes by the West," he said.
"Cooling relations with Moscow has prompted recognition that the radar-guided threat has not by any means gone away. In terms of what the Russians have been doing in regards to air-to-air and particularly surface-to-air missiles they have a new generation of weapons becoming available. These missiles are also available on the export market and pose more of a capability threat than we have seen in the last 20 years," Barrie said.