The US Air National Guard (USANG) and Northrop Grumman are making modifications to a KC-135 air refuelling aircraft in preparation for the operational utility evaluation of the Guardian anti-missile system.

The Guardian system includes the AN/AAQ-24(V) infrared countermeasures defensive aid system in a pod-based configuration.

The AN/AAQ-24 is currently fitted on over 500 fixed and rotary wing platforms for the US military, foreign heads of state and allied countries.

Guardian is an advanced laser-based missile protection system, which is designed to protect aircraft, crew and passengers from advanced man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS).

The system includes a multiband laser pointer / tracker and an ultraviolet missile warning sensor.

The system operates by detecting launched missiles and then directing a non-visible, eye-safe laser to the seeker head of the incoming missile, disrupting its guidance signals.

Northrop Grumman Land and Self Protection Systems Division vice-president of infrared countermeasures Carl Smith said the Guardian system was ideal for protecting legacy aircraft, such as the KC-135.

The pod is easily transferred from one aircraft to another in about 30 minutes, making IRCM protection a role-fit option, with fewer systems required to protect the fleet.

“The first phase of the evaluation is to determine the suitability of the pod while on the aircraft with respect to its mission,” Smith said.