Billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s private Airbus A340-500 was spotted at Ben-Gurion International Airport with an interesting self-protection system.
On May 31, 2019, our friend and journalist Nir Dvori, shot a really interesting photograph of the Airbus A345 (A340-500) registered “VP-BMS” on the ground at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport. Indeed, the aircraft sports a rather unusual feature for a private aircraft: a C-MUSIC (Commercial MUlti-Spectral Infrared Countermeasure) DIRCM (Directed Infra Red Counter Measure) system. DIRCM is an acronym used to generally describe any infrared countermeasure system that tracks and directs energy towards heat seeking missiles.
Produced by the Israeli Elbit Systems company, C-MUSIC is a DIRCM system designed to protect large aircraft against heat-seeking ground-to-air missiles (MANPADS – Man Portable Air Defense Systems) missiles. Contained in a single fuselage-mounted pod, it uses advanced fiber laser technology together with a high frame rate thermal camera and a small, highly dynamic mirror turret to detect and then divert heat seeking Infra-Red missiles by disturbing their guidance systems. Read about the DIRCM systems carried by Air Force One in this previous article of mine.
The fully automatic and autonomous system was developed after a November 2002 incident in Kenya where terrorists fired two surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli Arkia Boeing B757-300 plane carrying 261 passengers and 10 crew from Mombasa to Tel Aviv; the missiles missed their target. According to the vendor, C-MUSIC is today operational with all the Israeli commercial carriers as well as several private aircraft from all around the world. Including the A345 “VP-BMS”, one of the aircraft in the fleet of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.
Although the A345 itself is pretty famous (you can find several articles online with details about Sheldon’s widebodies) little is known about the self-protection suite of the VIP aircraft other than the use of the C-MUSIC exposed by the pod under the rear fuselage. For instance, it’s not clear (since not visible in the shots) whether the plane is also equipped with chaff and flares dispensers (with the first used to divert radar-guided missiles; the latter used to attract and deceive heat-seeking missiles fired at the aircraft).
While military airlifters as well as State aircraft are often equipped with cutting edge self-protection technologies it’s a bit rarer (hence quite interesting) to see such systems installed on private wide-bodies. However, the latter ones (that can also be mistaken for State aircraft carrying a Head of State) can be targeted by MANPADS too, hence the need for a proper anti-missile defensive system. You never know who, intentionally or not, might be pointing a missile at you!