Farnborough Air Show -- Imagine a UAV with radar built into its wings, its nose and its tail. Now imagine a squadron of UAVs sharing that data among themselves and building a huge field of regard. Add a few Super Hornets or F-35s to enlarge the field even more and to give the squadron not just eyes, but also weapons to destroy any targets identified during the run. Put all that together and you possess a likely view of the next five years of development for Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.
The first operational AESA radar was developed by Raytheon for the F-15C fighter. The first systems were flying by December 2000. Since then AESA radars have racked up 150,000 flight hours, according to a Raytheon press release. The growing UAV market offers opportunities for AESA now because Raytheon looks to build conformal radar that weigh 2 to 5 pounds per square foot and are less than an inch thick. That will allow them to be installed in places current radar just can't go and they could be placed in UAVs with a six-foot wingspan.
On top of that, Raytheon believes it can expand the capabilities of the radar so it can be used within the next two to five years to feed ISR and other data to other sources at the speed of an email. AESA radar already provides pilots with detailed radar maps and those maps can be shared with ground personnel via Rover or Link 16.
So far, Raytheon executives are reluctant to discuss whether any programs are underway yet for AESA radar on UAVs. Fred Lanes, head of business development for Raytheon's Tactical Airborne Systems, told reporters today that "we are waiting to be approached."