Drone AEW Not Too Far Off

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After a swift and (for competitors) apparently trouble-free development, IAI-Elta expects the Coformal Airborne Early Warning (CAEW) to reach formal initial operational capability (IOC) with the Israeli Air Force in the first quarter of 2008. In fact, the Gulfstream G550-based system is already flying missions with IAF crews, as the service conducts training and familiarization flights; crews have been training on the simulator in parallel with flight tests, which started in Israel last fall.

But the crews may not be flying for much longer. CAEW is already designed so that it does not need radar operators on board the aircraft. With a wideband datalink, it's intended to feed information to a ground station, and ultimately will be part of a tight network that also includes signals intelligence, maritime patrol and ground-surveillance G550s.

The final step is to take the flight crew off the aircraft, according to Avishai Itzhakian, general manager for IAI-Elta's AEW division. Speaking at IQPC Defence's AEW conference in London last week, Itzhakian outlined the project's goal -- to provide continuous air, land, sea and electronic surveillance with a constellation of UAVs.

It got interesting when someone asked when that might happen. "It's not so far away," he said, and pointed out that a Northrop Grumman speaker, talking about the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program, had just referred to Boeing's proposal based on an optionally piloted G550. "You can figure this out for yourself," he said.

Read more about drone radar zappers from our Aviation Week friends at Military.com.

-- Christian

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