AESA Radar to Be Trialed on UK’s GR4 Tornados By 2007
In “Elec Tricks,” DID covered the value of Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars. They offer increased power, no moving parts which improves robustness and maintenance, and some entirely new capabilities as well. At the moment, the USA is the only country fielding AESA radars in its fighters: some F-15 Eagles with AN/APG-63 v2/v3 radars, the F-22 Raptor and its ultra-powerful AN/APG-77, the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and its AN/APG-79, and the new F-16E Block 60 “Desert Falcon” with its AN/APG-80 (in service only with the United Arab Emirates).
The UK Ministry of Defence has now awarded a contract to a team led by the boffins at QinetiQ, in order to integrate an Active Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) on a Tornado GR4A strike aircraft by 2007 for assessment by the RAF. It’s interesting that the Tornado F3 long-range air defense fighter or Eurofighter were not picked as the upgrade platforms, but there seems to be a method to Britain’s choice…
In terms of Britain’s future fighter force, the Eurofighter will generally replace the Tornado F3 air defense fighters. Upgrading the F3s, therefore, makes little sense. The Eurofighters sport advanced ECR-90 CAPTOR multi-mode pulse doppler radars, but the GDTAR Consortium of BAE, EADS, and Thales are already at work on an AESA replacement: the Airborne Multi-mode Solid-state Airborne Radar (AMSAR). If all goes well, AMSAR may be ready for fielding by 2010-2011. Additional upgrades are also contemplated that will give Eurofighters far more multi-role capability; at present, they are considered by many to be the second best air superiority aircraft in the world (behind the F-22A Raptor), but are limited in the strike fighter role.
This has created growing interest in extending the life of Britain’s Tornado GR4 long-range strike fighter. These aircraft entered service as the GR1 in 1979, and most were upgraded to GR4 status beginning in 1996.
Hence the recent announcement of this QinetiQ-led Advanced Radar Targeting System (ARTS) project. ARTS will explore the use of AESA and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) in an air-to-surface role, including real-time target imaging, with a view to replacing the 1970s-era Decca Doppler Type 72 mechanically-scanned terrain following/ ground mapping radar system. The program represents the first use of the Tornado Research Exploitation Vehicle (TREV) concept, which is intended to support MoD’s aspiration to achieve faster exploitation of research by the front-line.
A combination of AESA multi-mode radar, SAR surface-looking radar and improved computing power for integration of sensor data should be able to radically improve the Tornado GR4′s situational awareness of both ground and air spaces around it. Range and target resolution should improve substantially, as should reliability figures; meanwhile, maintenance costs could be expected to drop sharply. When coupled with new weapons like the Storm Shadow stealth cruise missile, Meteor long-range air-air missile and the Brimstone anti-armor missile, an upgraded GR4 could earn a new lease on life over low-intensity and high-intensity battlefields alike.
QinetiQ has teamed on ARTS with SELEX Sensors and Airborne Systems and BAE Systems Customer Solutions & Support.
The Confusing Crazy Quilt of Contracting
The QinetiQ release notes that the Advanced Radar Targeting System (ARTS) contract was:
“…placed by the Defence Procurement Agency’s (DPA’s) Sensors, Avionics, Navigation and Air Electronic Warfare Integrated Project Team (SANS & Air EW IPT) on behalf of MoD’s Research Acquisition Organisation (RAO) as part of the Output 6 Research Programme sponsored by the DPA’s Future Business Group (FBG). ARTS will also be supported by the Defence Logistic Organisation’s (DLO’s) Tornado IPT. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) will provide MoD with independent technical advice on the programme.”
Simple, really. Oh, and:
“ARTS will run in parallel to the multi-national Advanced Multi-Mode Solid-State Airborne Radar (AMSAR) programmes and will focus on specific areas of capability development (SAR and Automatic Target Recognition (ATR)). ARTS will also focus on platform integration and aims to raise System Readiness Levels (SRLs). It is anticipated that AMSAR will continue to provide a programme through which to raise Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) and explore the potential for AESA to contribute to other capability areas.”
Recall that AMSAR is the R&D project associated with the Eurofighter’s future AESA. So to sum up:
QinetiQ, BAE & SELEX are partnered on ARTS to make AESA and SAR work on GR4s in NCW. SANS & Air EW IPT placed this TREV contract on behalf of MoD’s RAO, as part of DPA’s FBG Output 6. DLO’s Tornado IPT and DSTL will also assist, and ARTS will run in parallel with AMSAR to raise SRLs.
- Northrop Grumman – AESA Radar: Revolutionary Capabilities For Multiple Missions [PDF format]. Details a number of the radar type’s characteristics that make it special, and offers insights into some of the developments within the AESA field.
- Raytheon – Raytheon’s Revolutionary AESA Technology. Includes links to their various AESA radar designs and capabilities, and adds as a list of related press releases at the bottom.
- DID (Dec 18/05) – AESA Comlinks: DID Reader Has Done Prior Research. Dr. Carlo Kopp has already done a fair bit of work in the field, beginning with his PhD thesis in Melbourne in 1999. He has some insights into the hard parts ahead for Northrop-Grumman and L-3, and would be happy to share. Read the article for an outline and links to more in-depth materials.
- Aviation Week & Space Technology (Dec 11/05) – Talking Radars
- DID (Oct 24/05) – Supersonic SIGINT: Will F-35, F-22 Also Play EW Role?
- Australian Aviation (June 2002) – Active Electronically Steered Arrays: A Maturing Technology