Northrop Grumman has begun flight testing an anti-MANPADS infrared countermeasures pod onboard its Scaled Composites WhiteKnightOne aircraft at Mojave, California. NG has been contracted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to perform the tests as a part of Project CHLOE.
NG has modified one of the countermeasures pods that had been flight tested by FedEx as a part of the commercial "Guardian" program for use at high altitudes. According to Jack Pledger, Director of Infrared Countermeasures Program at NG's Business Development unit, the flight tests are part of a concept demonstration to use a high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles to loiter above commercial airports and protect aircraft from man-launched heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. WhiteKnight is acting as a "surrogate UAV" for the tests, said Pledger.
The current tests are being flown to verify the pod's altitude capabilities in advance of demonstrations to take place next month against threats, in which NG hopes to show that the pod can detect a missile launch and "put energy on the target from high altitude", stated Pledger.
The primary concept being explored under Project CHLOE is to use a UAV circling for up to 24 hours at 65,000 feet above a major airport which is equipped for the dual role of detecting and defeating a heat-seeking missile launched against an airliner. Other systems, such as the Northrop Grumman Guardian, CAMPS and Flight Guard have been developed which would be mounted on individual commercial aircraft, but such systems can cost upwards of US$1 million per plane, and airlines would prefer a more workable and affordable solution over using equipment that they have to both pay for and then maintain. The program is the result of a congressional directive to the DHS to explore technology options parallel with the development of aircraft-mounted systems.
The proposed UAVs would have a long loiter time, up to 24 hours per flight, so that there would be a "perpetual orbit", of an aircraft above an airport. The system would have all-weather capabilities to scan a threat envelope of a three mile radius around the airport, and air traffic up to an altitude of 18,000 feet, plus standard approach and departure corridors up to 65 miles from airports. The system would be required to respond to a threat within three to ten seconds. It would also have to be unaffected by ground clutter which could mimic the signature of a missile launch. Admiral Jay M. Cohen, DHS' technology chief was quoted by Fox News as saying, "One of these devices flying above 60,000 feet would cover all of the commercial airports in the L.A. County area."
According to DHS literature, there are three objectives to Project CHLOE development. The first is to "investigate and demonstrate the feasibility of persistent stand-off Counter-MANPADS protection". This includes using one or more UAVs stationed over airports which are equipped with both warning systems and countermeasures systems, or using UAVs networked with ground-based countermeasures. The UAVs would be autonomous in their flight and detection operations.
The second objective is to "investigate and demonstrate DHS missions and payloads that are compatible with CHLOE technology platform and operating environment." These secondary roles for the UAVs would include emergency and disaster relief support, support of the Customs and Border Patrol and Coast Guard for border and maritime surveillance and interdiction, and critical infrastructure monitoring.
The third objective is integrate such technologies into the air traffic control system and other law enforcement agencies for overall situational awareness.
Civilian pilot groups have expressed concern about impact of drone operations in civilian airspace, especially during takeoff and landing. During the actual loitering, the drones will not be a factor to civilian air traffic, since they will be above the national airspace. DHS is also addressing concerns about the danger to people on the ground from lasers being directed downward, as well as concerns over a falling defeated missile.
The project's name refers to the character "Chloe O'Brian" from the television show 24, which is Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's favorite show.