Leonardo wins Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation that makes Service Personnel feel safer

21 April 2022

Leonardo has won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category, for technology that aircrew and soldiers have said makes them feel safer when they have to fly into danger zones.

The company is one of 226 organisations across the country to be recognised with a prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise. The Innovation Award category acknowledges the ingenuity of Leonardo’s infrared countermeasure (IRCM) technology, which protects aircraft against heat-seeking missiles. 

Typically, such missiles are deflected when an aircraft ejects pyrotechnic flares. However, because they have a limited supply of such devices, it makes them vulnerable to attack once expended. The company’s latest IRCM developments include a product called Miysis that deflects missiles by ‘dazzling’ the threat’s infrared (IR) guidance system with a powerful laser, throwing it off course. This enables fast reaction times to deflect multiple incoming missiles simultaneously, overcoming the limitations of current flare technologies, allowing safe aircraft operations over conflict areas, or indeed wherever the enemy might try to employ these small highly-portable missiles.

First-hand feedback from both soldiers flying as passengers and aircrew operating the aircraft has confirmed that they don’t want to fly without the protection afforded by the system, because of its ability to deflect multiple missiles coming towards an aircraft from different directions.

Leonardo Project Engineering Manager, Murray MacKenzie, said: “An end user comment that sticks with me is that the pilots won’t fly without it, and will ask if it is on board before flying on a mission. I was present at a briefing by a senior member of the military who said it is one of the few bits of technology that is not only revered by service people, but also their families, as it helps to bring their partners, parents, sons and daughters home alive and safe.”

The Leonardo business in Edinburgh previously won Queen’s Awards for Enterprise for Innovation in 2011 and International Trade in 2010. Leonardo employs over 2,000 highly skilled people at its Edinburgh site and over 7,500 across the UK. Engineers who have heard the soldiers’ and aircrew’s testimonials have felt great pride that the work they carry out on a daily basis at the company’s site in Edinburgh has helped users feel they are more protected. Amongst them are David Gourlay and Alastair McFarland.

Dave Gourlay, Leonardo’s Edinburgh-based Head of Campaigns, clearly remembers being a passenger in a flight departing Kandahar at night with all the external and internal aircraft lights turned off. 

Dave said: “It was pitch-black, as you would expect, and I remember looking at the engine exhausts as they glowed red hot on full take-off power – thinking they were a potential target for any heat-seeking missile. Then I remembered being thankful knowing our technology was on board protecting us. It is a discreet capability that is rarely in the limelight. A bit like a goalkeeper with such a giant reach that the opposition can never score a goal…that’s the sort of goalkeeper we create at Edinburgh.”

Alastair McFarland, Head of Strategic Initiatives at Leonardo, said: “Under that small sapphire dome is an incredibly accurate, powerful laser. The team in Edinburgh is immensely proud of our technology and the trust placed in their engineering by aircrew around the world.”

Whilst the technology was previously available for large aircraft, the company has packaged advanced electro-optical and laser technology into a compact design. This means that it can be carried on smaller aircraft, such as light battlefield helicopters or larger aircraft where space is a premium, protecting aircrew on all platforms.

Leonardo in Edinburgh first emerged when it was transformed from a green field to a factory in just 18 weeks in 1943, in response to an urgent requirement for the production of gyro gun sights for the RAF’s Spitfire in the Second World War. This acted as a springboard for the creation of new electronics, some of which had never been seen before, including airborne radar, lasers and self-protection systems. 

The Queen’s Award is now in its 56th year, and is regarded as amongst the most prestigious business awards in the country, with winning businesses able to use the Queen’s Awards Emblem for the next five years. Applications for Queen’s Awards for Enterprise 2023 open on the 1st May 2022. For more information, visit https://www.gov.uk/queens-awards-for-enterprise.