U.S. Air National Guard Recommends Fielding Of BriteCloud 218 Decoy

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BriteCloud
An artistic depiction of the BriteCloud 218 variant released by a F-16C Fighting Falcon. (Photo: Leonardo)

The decoy will be designated AN/ALQ-260(V)1 in U.S. Armed Forces service.

The U.S. Air National Guard has issued a “fielding recommendation” for Leonardo’s BriteCloud 218 Expendable Active Decoy, after the successful completion of the Foreign Comparative Testing on the service’s F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets. BriteCloud 218 is a smaller variant of the 55 mm cylindrical BriteCloud round which can fit the 2”x1”x8” US-made chaff/flare dispensers, like the standard AN/ALE-47 countermeasure dispensers installed on the F-16.

According to the press release, the ANG “is confident that the decoy meets and, in some instances, even exceeds operational requirements, delivering an increased platform protection capability to 4th generation fighter aircraft”. With the fielding recommendation, the U.S. Air Force has now subsequently designated BriteCloud 218 as AN/ALQ-260(V)1, identifying it as an airborne electronic warfare countermeasure.

“It looks like it’s passed with flying colours. We have really high interest and demand from other F-16 users and other platforms, from NATO [nations] and beyond. We are in close discussions with a number of potential buyers” said to FlightGlobal Wayne Smith, Leonardo UK’s vice-president sales, electronic warfare. “We have built up a high level of confidence in the system for Typhoon with the 55[mm] format, and now we are getting the same level of confidence from the end user for the 218 format for the F-16”.

As we reported in an in-depth story last year, BriteCloud is a battery powered, self-contained cartridge that provides an off-board jamming capability that can be dropped like the classic chaffs and flares, creating a large distance between the aircraft and the decoy so the missile and its shrapnel miss completely the aircraft. According to Leonardo, BriteCloud has the capability to defeat the majority of RF-guided surface-to-air and air-to-air threat systems, including the ones that rely on the “home-on-jam” guidance.

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BriteCloud 218 and BriteCloud 55 shown side-by-side. (Photo: Leonardo)

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BriteCloud 218 and BriteCloud 55 shown side-by-side. (Photo: Leonardo)

After BriteCloud is ejected, it starts to search for priority threats, collecting the incoming radar pulses and cross-referencing them against a pre-programmed threat library. Upon finding a match, BriteCloud’s on-board computer applies its advanced algorithms to simulate a “false target” so accurate that the threat system cannot detect the deception and distinguish it from the real aircraft. “BriteCloud is substantially more effective than traditional countermeasures such as chaff decoys because its technology allows BriteCloud to tailor its powerful electronic ghost signal to the specific threat radar, allowing it to defeat modern, sophisticated threats,” says Smith.

Leonardo is currently the only company which succeeded in sufficiently miniaturizing the Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) technology to the point where it can be launched from a standard 55 mm chaff and flare dispenser (“the size of a drinks can”, as the company described it). With these characteristics, BriteCloud requires minimal platform integration as it just needs to be loaded in the chaff/flare dispensers.

BriteCloud is being developed in three variants: BriteCloud 55, the 55 mm cylindrical variant already operational on the RAF Typhoons and that will equip the Gripen E; BriteCloud 218, the squared 2”x1”x8” format for US-made chaff/flare dispensers; BriteCloud 55T, currently in development for transport aircraft and helicopters. Speaking to FlightGlobal, Smith said that interest in the BriteCloud 55T has risen since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this year, Leonardo disclosed that two Italian Air Force Tornados and a Royal Danish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon visited RAF Coningsby during October 2021 for trials with the BriteCloud EAD. These tests also follow the integration of BriteCloud on the MQ-9A Reaper and MQ-9B Sky/SeaGuardian series UAVs. General Atomics’ MQ-9 became the first RPAS to employ BriteCloud, with a test campaign in late 2020 that saw the Reaper successfully releasing a number of inert decoys during carriage and release trials from the new Self-Protection Pod.

About Stefano D’Urso
Stefano D’Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he’s also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.
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