SELEX Prototyping A New AESA Radar for the UK
In February 2009, SELEX Galileo announced a GBP 19 million contract from the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) to develop and produce an initial Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar prototype. After rigorous ground and compact antenna test range testing, the radar is planned to fly on a Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft in the UK.
With the EUR 9 billion multinational Tranche 3A purchase, total orders for the Eurofighter reached 559 machines. Even if Tranche 3B never materializes and exports stall, those fighters represent a large investment that will attract upgrades over their lifetimes. Once of the most important upgrades involves replacing the Euroradar consortium’s ECR-90 mechanically-scanned array with a modern AESA radar that offers better resolution, multitasking, upgradeability, and reliability. Euroradar’s CAESAR AESA has already participated in flight trials on the Typhoon, but the UK MoD seems to have something else in mind…
The UK’s AESA TDP
This Technology Demonstrator Programme (TDP) is aimed beyond the Typhoon to include “future UK platforms,” and the ministry also wants a radar with “offering a wide field of vision and enhanced performance levels” compared to conventional AESA radars in fighters. The AESA TDP will focus on Day/Night All Weather targeting, high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for ground scans, Air-to-Air targeting, and communications.
AESA radars coordinate thousands of transmit-receive modules by electronically steering their beams, allowing them to perform more than one task simultaneously, and improve focus on areas of interest with less “sidelobe leakage” of energy outside the radar’s field of focus. That ability to focus better without distracting the radar from its main tasks has led to experiments involving AESA radars for secure broadband communications, and even offensive electronic warfare functions.
AESA radars to date have been easy to spot. Most avoid moving parts that might break and put the radar out of action, by using just a flat plate of T/R modules. Since the radar can compensate for the loss of several modules with no meaningful consequences to its performance, the result is a radar that is never out of action for maintenance, and lasts longer than its fighter.
To enlarge an AESA radar’s field of view, however, there are 2 basic approaches. One involves supplementary radar modules, configured to cover new areas but integrated into a common system. The other, which SELEX Galileo is already pursuing via the Gripen NG’s forthcoming “ES-05 Raven” radar, involves an AESA radar array coupled with mechanical scanning.
Contracts & Key Events
Feb 17/10: The UK’s AESA Technology Demonstrator Programme is announced. The TDP’s goal is to raise technology readiness levels for the required hardware, discover and remove early risks, and demonstrate maturity of concept. After rigorous ground and compact antenna test range testing, the radar is planned to fly on an RAF Typhoon aircraft in the UK.
SELEX Galileo informs DID that they will pursue this contract independently, outside their position as head of the Euroradar consortium. Finmeccanica release [PDF] | SELEX Galileo release, via Shephard Group.
- DID – Eurofighter’s EUR 9B Multinational Tranche 3A Contract. Includes in-depth coverage of the Eurofighter platform and consortia.