Over 20 years ago the Moscow-based Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Building (NIIP) made military aviation history with the production of the Mikoyan MiG-31’s N007 Zaslon radar. Zaslon was a technological marvel in its day, being the first airborne fighter radar fitted with an electronically scanning array (ESA).
But it was also one of the heaviest radars ever made, weighing in at 2,200 pounds; the antenna array weighed some 660 pounds on its own. The unit weighed twice as much as the Grumman F-14’s Hughes AWG-9 radar, then the world’s longest range fighter radar.
NIIP no longer works only with radar behemoths, instead focusing more sharply on alternatives to western cutting-edge technology. “Although other firms in the U.S. and Europe are now fielding with an active array [AESA], we are still using passive arrays. It is by no means a given that we are behind the developments of these other firms,” general designer Yuri Beliy told Aviation International News.
“Our many years of designing, operating and upgrading the Zaslon have taught us a lot about how to design new-age radars with electronic arrays,” Beliy added. “We have a knowledge base that is probably more extensive than any firm in the West in this respect.
“Secondly, we have taken the approach of some other firms–like Thales and Raytheon–in that we have radar sets in which we have devised ways to replace some of the modules in an old radar set to greatly expand its performance. Also we have designed in the possibility–as Thales has with the RBE2–to pull off the older model antenna and replace it with an electronically scanning array.”
NIIP’s third tack centers on building a family of radars where each subsequent design grows out of the one that preceded it. Northrop Grumman has used the F/A-22’s APG-77 radar to develop the APG-80 for the Lockheed-Martin F-16E/F fighter and then the APG-81 for the F-35. “NIIP has taken a similar generational approach to its new designs,” said Beliy. “We do not start from zero on any of our designs but utilize existing components where it makes sense.” NIIP aims to introduce new technologies when they prove themselves reliable–or as reliable as the components they replace.
The new designs that NIIP will be flight testing and then producing in the immediate future include:
N011M Bars Compact Configuration–NIIP has replaced some of the components in the N011M’s original configuration, designed a smaller antenna and is now proposing this “downsized” N011M model as a retrofit into existing MiG-29s as part of a larger upgrade package. The design largely represents a response by NIIP to compete with the Phazotron N010 Zhuk-M model, already a candidate for the MiG-29 fighter’s modernization.
N035 Irbis–Designed for the Sukhoi Su-35, this radar still employs a passive electronic array, but NIIP designers have emphasized it’s not simply a warmed-over version of the N011M, which it previously supplied for the Indian air force’s Su-30MKI fighters. The N035 uses modern components and promises more track-while-scan functionality and the ability to fire on more targets simultaneously. If the Su-35 does not go into production, the N035 can work with existing Su-27/30 aircraft. An AESA at some point could replace its passive array. NIIP expects to fly this radar on a testbed fighter in 2006.
New Generation AESA–NIIP hasn’t assigned a designator for this design yet, but says it will borrow characteristics from the N035. It expects to bench-test a working model some time this year.
The one unanswered question for NIIP remains, ‘On what aircraft platform will the AESA design find its niche?’ In theory, this radar would go on a new-generation fighter, but no concrete designs have entered development yet in Russia–only design studies and discussion about foreign partners such as India, which might participate in the effort.
Given the length of fighter development cycles, this AESA radar seems destined to wait quite some time before someone develops a new aircraft on which to use it. What will NIIP do if this proves the case? “There are plenty of Su-27s and other aircraft out there who could provide a home for this radar,” said a NIIP official.