Farnborough Air Show

Europe designs radars autonomously from U.S.

 - November 27, 2006, 11:06 AM

“Even though you can still buy VHS videotape movies almost everyone buys DVDs instead,” Steve Martin, head of campaigns UK and naval radar systems for Selex, told a press conference here yesterday. “E-scan (the UK term for AESA) radars are the DVDs of the airborne systems world of today.”

Selex and the other members of the Euroradar consortium are about to enter the AESA sweepstakes with the design of several active-scanning radar sets, including the Caesar (Captor Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar), which is specifically designed to fit into the Eurofighter Typhoon. Caesar is built upon the Typhoon’s original Captor radar, which had a mechanically steered antenna array, with the concept that an active array can be retrofitted to this set while retaining the functionality and modes of the original Captor configuration.

This type of retrofit is slightly ambitious in that airborne radars have generally seen three generations of successively more advanced design technology in their arrays: mechanically steered, then passive electronically scanning (PESA), and finally at the top of the technology scale AESA. France’s Thales has managed the jump from PESA to ASEA with the Dassault Rafale’s RBE2 radar set. However, Euroradar is electing to skip the intermediate stage and take the much longer leap all the way from mechanical to an AESA design.

The Euroradar consortium that has developed the Caesar is headed by several firms that include SELEX Sensors and Airborne Systems, EADS Defence Electronics of Germany, Galileo Avionica of Italy and Indra of Spain. The Caesar prototype demonstration set has been flown successfully on a BAC-111 testbed aircraft this past February 24. This first flight involved three hours of air-to-air simulated target tracking and engagements. Later this year there will be additional flights to validate the air-to-ground and additional air-to-air modes.

The key to the design and manufacture of any AESA is the ability to produce highcapacity transmit/receive (T/R) modules, which has been the technology bottleneck for some programs in other countries– sometimes forcing them to turn to their competitors at either home or abroad for assistance. In the case of Caesar, the T/R modules are built at EADS’s facility in Ulm, Germany and were developed by another Ulm-based company, United Monolithic Semiconductors.

Selex is showing two other smaller AESA designs on its stand at the Finmeccanica pavilion. One is the Picosar, which is designed for small airborne platforms, chiefly UAVs or helicopters. A larger model is the Vixen 500E, which Selex has proposed for the Korean Aerospace A-50 attack version of the T-50 Golden Eagle jet trainer. Other potential applications include the Aeromacchi M 346 trainer. A slightly larger version of this design, the Vixen 750, is proposed for lightweight fighter applications like the F-16.

This “one technology–right sizing for the platform” approach demonstrates the modularity of the AESA concept and how it can be built up or down depending on the platform. On the high end of the scale you have the Caesar design which fits the Eurofighter, the Picosar on the low end for much smaller vehicles–and the Vixen models in between.

But, other than modularity and flexibility of the technology, Selex and its partners have achieved another objective: autonomy. Selex “has spent tens of millions of pounds to develop this technology and there is no U.S. content,” said Martin. No doubt the drive to be free from being forced to rely on the export licensing that would come from using any U.S. technology has been motivated by the technology release issues that still are in dispute between U.S. and European industry partners on the Lockheed Martin F-35 program. Selex and its Euroradar partners will be free to now offer this technology to any customer without asking for permission from Washington, which is a goal that has long been sought by portions of the UK and European defense industry.