AESA Radars Are A Highlight of Aero-India

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Active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technology is a requirement for Indias Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, the biggest in the world. Consequently, a lot of maneuvering was apparent at the Aero India show last month, as fighter manufacturers worked to define their AESA answers and (in some cases) stall competitors.

Boeings F/A-18E/F Super Hornet has the simplest answer. Raytheons APG-79 radar is standard on the Block 2 airplane, the current variant, and Boeing has not indicated its considering alternatives. This allows Boeing to wave a low-risk banner, offering, essentially, the aircraft flying with the U.S. Navy and on order for Australia.

Lockheed Martin had a choice of three radars. Raytheons Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) and Northrop Grummans Scalable Active Beam Radar (SABR) fit in an F-16, but Lockheed ultimately chose Northrop Grummans APG-80, in service in the United Arab Emirates F-16E/F. Two reasons are behind this, says Northrop Grumman: The proposed F-16IN for India is similar to the E/F and can accept the APG-80, which needs more power and cooling than RACR or SABR, and is lower risk. Northrop Grumman says no APG-80 antennas have had to be repaired, in normal use, since tests started over four years ago. The antenna will outlast the airframe, the company says. A few modules might fail over its lifetime, but they wont affect performance enough to make it worth unsealing the radome and replacing them.

Eurofighter holds a unique view of the AESA issue. Executives say the Selec Captor mechanically scanned array (MSA) beats any in-service AESA for the Typhoons mission. A clue to their thinking emerged at an Aero India seminar. Peter Gutsmiedl, senior vice president of engineering at EADS Military Air Systems, pointed out ways in which an AESA could be integrated into Typhoon, including small side arrays, an azimuth gimbal and the so-called swashplate radar, a canted antenna on a rotating mount. The goal is to overcome drawbacks of a fixed AESA: narrower field of view than an MSA and diminishing effective aperture and performance at the edges of that field.

Meanwhile, a spat between France and Sweden is developing. In 2007, Saab struck a deal with Thales to provide an AESA antenna for the Gripen Demo program, to be mated with the signal processor from the JAS 39Cs Saab PS-05 MSA radar. The Thales AESA replaced the passive-scan antenna of Rafales RBE2.

But three things happened: Thales and Dassault were given the go-ahead to develop and produce the AESA for Rafale; Dassault has taken a large shareholding in Thales; and the Gripen NG has emergedin India and Brazilas a competitor to Rafale. Thales will honor the Gripen Demo contract but its AESA will not be available for a production NG.

Sweden has talked about RACR, but would prefer the PS-05/As "back end" modules for ease of integration and to stay away from control issues associated with U.S. components. The answer may lie with Selex, which, first as Ferranti, then as GEC-Marconi and subsequently as BAE Systems, was Swedens partner on the original PS-05/A.

Read the rest of this story, get into a knife fight with a Switchblade, see how the Dutch are pulling the gloves off and read about EADS's A400M dilemma from our Aviation Week friends exclusively on Military.com.

-- Christian

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