MERRIMACK — Media outlets on Monday had the rare opportunity to tour three BAE Systems facilities, learning more about the world’s largest international defense company and how its software and equipment is helping to save lives.
While much of its work is classified, BAE Systems welcomed nearly 10 media outlets to participate in the unique event, including media organizations such as Aviation Week, Defense Daily, Defense News and the New Hampshire Union Leader.
BAE Systems is a global defense, security and aerospace company with employees worldwide. It delivers products and services for air, land and naval forces.
The defense company has facilities in Manchester, Merrimack, Nashua and Hudson. The Manchester site has 117 employees, while Merrimack has 711, Nashua has 2,853 and Hudson has 702 workers.
Tour participants were able to walk through the Worrell/Weeks Aircrew Protection Center in Merrimack, which opened nearly three years ago. The facility is used to test and evaluate complex survivability and protection systems in a simulated real-world environment, according to Murray Collette, technical director.
“We are doing things here that would take days to do in the field,” said Collette, explaining the state-of-the-art lab allows rigorous analysis of aircraft survivability equipment in an operationally representative environment.
Full-spectrum electronic warfare testing is done at the $20 million protection center, which helps reduce overall program costs because performance issues are resolved prior to field testing, Collette said.
The facility offers defensive countermeasure systems that can instantly sense and respond to threats such as missiles and other hostile fire. In addition to two flight motion simulators, a two-axis gantry simulates movable threats on an indoor and outdoor test range.
Inside the range, sensors are placed on an aircraft simulator that help it detect an infrared missile simulator. Once the virtual threat is recognized, a laser from the aircraft is sent to the missile’s eye, which essentially blinds the missile, throws it off course and corrupts its electronics.
The equipment created and tested at BAE Systems is housed on nearly every U.S. Army helicopter, said Collette, adding the company is not only working to help military personnel, but civilians as well.
Although Congress has shelved a jamming laser beam program created by BAE Systems, the JETEYE, it has been created for potential future use on commercial airplanes. The JETEYE is described as a commercial airliner infrared missile protection system.
“We are really trying to push our systems to the limits,” he said, explaining that noise, heat and clutter are added to simulations within the testing environment. “We emulate all of those threats and conditions in here.”
Currently in the lab, about 150 employees are working on CIRCM, with preliminary design reviews expected to take place this week. CIRCM is the company’s next generation integrated aircraft survivability and protection solution for the U.S. Army.
While the economy has stalled some projects, as it takes longer to get select programs under contract because of furloughs, BAE Systems still has a strong portfolio with few projects being canceled, Collette said.
Although workers would not discuss what percentage of projects are classified, Paul Squires at the Dr. John R. Kreick Infrared Jam and Simulation Lab in Nashua said his company works closely with government agencies and facilities such as the Missile and Space Intelligence Center and the Army Research Laboratory at White Sands Missile Range.
There is an active, classified email exchange to allow for quick responses to questions and concerns from the various agencies and departments, said Squires, a physicist.
“The threats are out there,” said Squires, acknowledging the need to continuously search for new and innovative technology. “As laser technology has advanced, our lasers have become more capable and more powerful. We are always looking at improving our techniques.”
BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems has more than 10,000 employees, more than 20 locations and a revenue of nearly $4 billion. It serves not only the U.S. government and defense industry, but international defense and commercial services as well.
The company’s Common Missile Warning System has protected soldiers from infrared-guided missiles for more than 50 years, according to data provided by BAE Systems.