Leonardo wins Queen’s Award for tech to protect service personnel from heat-seeking missiles


Leonardo is one of 226 organizations across the country to be recognized with a prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise. The Innovation Award category acknowledges the ingenuity of Leonardo’s infrared countermeasure (IRCM) technology, which protects aircraft against heat-seeking missiles.

Typically, such missiles are deflected when an aircraft ejects pyrotechnic flares but planes and helicopters only carry a limited number.

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The Crewe Toll company’s latest developments include a product called Miysis that deflects missiles by ‘dazzling’ the threat’s infrared (IR) guidance system with a powerful laser, throwing it off course – allowing safe aircraft operations over conflict areas.

Miysis DIRCM system ‘dazzles’ guidance systems on heat-seeking missiles

Military crews confirmed they don’t want to fly without the protection afforded by the system, because of its ability to deflect multiple missiles coming towards an aircraft from different directions.

Leonardo Project Engineering Manager Murray MacKenzie said: “An end user comment that sticks with me is that the pilots won’t fly without it, and will ask if it is on board before flying on a mission. I was present at a briefing by a senior member of the military who said it is one of the few bits of technology that is not only revered by service people, but also their families, as it helps to bring their partners, parents, sons and daughters home alive and safe.”

The Leonardo business in Edinburgh previously won Queen’s Awards for Enterprise for Innovation in 2011 and International Trade in 2010. Leonardo employs over 2,000 highly skilled people at its Edinburgh site and over 7,500 across the UK. Engineers who have heard the soldiers’ and aircrew’s testimonials have felt great pride that the work they carry out on a daily basis at the company’s site in Edinburgh has helped users feel they are more protected. Amongst them are David Gourlay and Alastair McFarland.

Dave Gourlay, Leonardo’s Edinburgh-based Head of Campaigns, clearly remembers being a passenger in a flight departing Kandahar at night with all the external and internal aircraft lights turned off.

Leonardo employees are proud of their lifesaving defense technology

Dave said: “It was pitch-black as you would expect and I remember looking at the engine exhausts as they glowed red hot on full take-off power – thinking they were a potential target for any heat-seeking missile. Then I remembered being thankful knowing our technology was on board protecting us. It is a discreet capability that is rarely in the limelight. A bit like a goalkeeper with such a giant reach that the opposition can never score a goal.”

Alastair McFarland, Head of Strategic Initiatives at Leonardo said: “Under that small sapphire dome is an incredibly accurate, powerful laser. The team in Edinburgh is immensely proud of our technology and the trust placed in their engineering by aircrew around the world.”

While the technology was previously available for large aircraft, the company has packaged advanced electro-optical and laser technology into a compact design. This means that it can be carried on smaller aircraft, such as light battlefield helicopters or larger aircraft where space is a premium, protecting aircrew on all platforms.

Leonardo in Edinburgh first emerged when it was transformed from a green field to a factory in just 18 weeks in 1943, in response to an urgent requirement for the production of gyro gun sights for the RAF’s Spitfire in the Second World War. It now creates airborne radar, lasers and self-protection systems.

Military helicopters and planes are targeted by missile systems in hostile zones

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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