With Singapore considering an E-2C replacement, and other regional air forces yet to buy their first airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft, yesterday’s briefing here by Northrop Grumman on the new 737 AEW&C aircraft was of more than passing interest.
Known in Australia (the launch customer) as the Wedgetail, this Boeing 737-700 airframe sports the unique “Top Hat” antenna housing Northrop Grumman’s multirole electronically scanned array (MESA). This offers “360-degree surveillance in a low-drag configuration with no moving parts,” said Joseph Schuster, director of business development at NG for this program. “Top Hat is the first aperture to shoot radar beams forward and aft,” he continued.
Schuster explained that the 288 transmit/receive modules in the MESA offer solid-state reliability. For detecting small targets, “we worked the sidelobes, to bring the clutter down and perform well over all terrains.”
So the 737 AEW&C can detect not only detect airborne threats, but also maritime targets such as fast patrol boats. Small target detection is also boosted by the large amount of power available to the radar–180 kVA is generated by each of the aircraft’s two CFM56-7 engines.
The system can focus energy on a specific threat sector while continuing to perform 360-degree background scans, said Schuster. “It has excellent ECCM [electronic counter-counter measures] and the IFF [identify-friend-or-foe] uses the same aperture as the radar.”
The mission data processor has an open architecture and low-cost commercial components. There are up to 10 mission consoles in the forward fuselage for the airborne operators.
The prototype 737 AEW&C flew in 2004 to test-handling characteristics, while integration tests on the new radar proceeded at Northrop Grumman’s Baltimore facility.
The fully equipped number-two aircraft flew last September. Initial operating capability in the Royal Australian Air Force is scheduled for July 2007. Turkey is the second customer and will also get its first aircraft next year.