This is particularly key in efforts to increase the survivability of aircraft, and their crews, especially in their support of carrying out missions.

Today’s most advanced threat detection systems are designed, programmed, and deployed to function autonomously, once implemented, usually as part of more comprehensive Threat Detection and response (TDR) systems capable of alerting users to a potential danger while simultaneously initiating actions to defeat the threat in order to protect the intended target(s). While technically semi-autonomous systems, because they carry out instructions under human supervision, threat detection systems are typically set up to operate autonomously because they can scan for threats tirelessly, identify threats and filter out non-threats, then initiate protective actions much more quickly and consistently than is humanly possible.

What kind of targets do threat detection systems protect?

Electronic threat detection devices and systems can be used to protect a wide range of strategic and high value potential targets, including:

  • Military rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft
  • Navy ships and submarines
  • Military ground vehicles and field operations
  • Critical infrastructure facilities
  • Airports
  • Head-of-state aircraft
  • Cargo ships and aircraft
  • Railroads and transit systems

What kind of threats do these systems detect?

The threats that these systems are built to detect can quickly arise from virtually anywhere and have the potential to be lethal or highly destructive – physically, electronically, or both – to large numbers of people in a short amount of time, as well as to governments, militaries, corporations, and other human infrastructures. The responses triggered by such threats can also be massively destructive. The threats to be detected include, but are not limited to:
  • Ground-, air-, or ship-based missiles
  • ManPAD missiles
  • Ballistic missile launches
  • Hostile fire projectiles (Small arms, heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft artillery, unguided rockets, and RPGs)
  • Cyberattacks 

Due to the significant damage that these threats represent, the effectiveness of a TDS is measured by two key factors – its ability to reliably identify threats accurately, and its ability to decide with certainty that a threat is real, including filtering out any false positive indicators. These factors are vitally important because their effectiveness ensures that the crews of potential targets can have confidence that the next stage – threat warning – will be accurate and timely every time. A verified threat warning can then prompt the most appropriate threat response, which can range from doing nothing to deploying electronic or kinetic countermeasures to signaling a need for a highly-destructive counterattack.

Do all threat detection systems seek out multiple threats?

Due to the proliferation of potential threats a target can encounter, most TDS are set up to spot, identify, and notify the system of any possible incoming threat. However, a form of threat detection known as missile launch detection specifically recognizes missile threats, including sensors capable of detecting a missile threat at the time of launch. This injects a significant advantage into the threat warning process, enabling early awareness of the threat and offering many more options to counter the impact of missile threats such as blocking, evading, misdirecting, or destroying them.

An alternate, and less effective approach to Missile Launch Detection often still used in defense systems is Missile Approach Detection, where the system builds confidence in its detection of a threat “as the threat travels over time.” This means that, instead of detecting the missile at launch, this system becomes more and more certain that the threat exists as the threat – a missile for example – gets closer and closer to its target.

How are threat detection systems implemented?

Aircraft can accomplish threat detection through a variety of means. Most missile warning or hostile fire systems detect threats with passive sensors, operating in either the ultra-violet (UV) or infra-red (IR) spectrums. Other systems use active systems to detect, which usually operate using radio frequency (RF) techniques. Cyber-based threats are detected using software embedded within the aircraft or subsystem software.

In the past, threat detection was developed after, and in reaction to, specific threats or threat types appeared. Today’s more advanced TDS, however, are one part of a more comprehensive managed threat detection and response mindset that both addresses current threats and builds anticipated threats into their capabilities to take on future “over the horizon” threats. In part, that means they use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to constantly update their threat “knowledge,” so they can detect and monitor new and evolving threats in real time, anticipate and adjust for new capabilities, and inform appropriate threat responses.

Over the years, threat detection technologies have become not only “smarter,” faster, and more powerful, but also much smaller, lighter, more energy efficient, and easier to integrate into security infrastructures. As a result, effective threat detection can now be used on a variety of platforms, from jets and other fixed-wing aircraft, rotary-wing aircraft (helicopters), and navy vessels to ground vehicles, cyber infrastructures, space satellites, and more. This adaptability can be a significant advantage as long as the systems themselves are developed, implemented, and sustained in ways that minimize vulnerabilities, prevent and repel attacks, and support long-term resilience against incursions.

Related topics to explore

Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures (ATIRCM) • Airborne Countermeasures Systems • Artificial Intelligence (AI) • Autonomous Control and Decisions Systems • Common Missile Warning Systems (CMWS) • Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) Systems • Electronic Warfare (EW) • Infrared (IR) Countermeasures • Limited Interim Missile Warning System (LIMWS) • Machine Learning (ML) • Radar Deception and Jamming • Smart Defense Systems • Target Recognition Systems • Threat Analysis Testing • Threat Detection Analyst • Threat Management Solutions

This information page is provided as a service to our readers by BAE Systems, Inc., a U.S.-based world leader in aerospace, defense, power, and intelligence solutions. Learn more about us here.

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