When Singapore revealed that it had chosen the Gulfstream G550 business jet as its new AEW platform last April, Northrop Grumman officials were reportedly shocked. They had every confidence that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) would select the E-2D, an upgraded version of the Hawkeye twin turboprop that had served the RSAF well for nearly 20 years.
“The G550-AEW with its high operating altitude of 41,000 feet enjoys an unhindered radar detection of more than 200 nautical miles,” noted Singapore Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean when he announced the choice. That is not the full story, though. Singapore will receive four examples of the G550 after modification by IAI Elta Systems into the Conformal Airborne Early Warning & Control (CAEW) system. Four similar aircraft are now entering full service with the Israel Air Force, where they are known as the Eitam (Fish Eagle).
At a recent conference in London, Avishai Izhakian, deputy general manager of IAI Elta’s AEW Division, gave an aggressive briefing on the merits of the EL/W-2085 integrated sensor suite that forms the heart of the CAEW system. “We bring a different attitude, and considerable innovation. We do things in months that our competitors take years to develop,” he claimed. These short development cycles have allowed Elta to take full advantage of the tremendous advance of electronics processing technology, which at the same time has provided significant reductions in weight and size, he added. “It’s a very simple algorithm to transform kilograms into kilobytes,” Izhakian said.
The CAEW system provides 360-degree coverage through two very large active arrays faired to each side of the fuselage, operating in L-band, plus smaller antennas in the nose and tail looking fore-and-aft, operating in S-band. The side-looking arrays generate most of the tracks; the shorter-range fore-and-aft lookers help maintain the track quality.
This is a unique configuration that Elta has been working toward for 25 years, starting with the Boeing 707-based Phalcon system that looked fore-and-aft only, and continuing with an Il-76 testbed. Izhakian noted that Elta has also developed “very advanced phased-array radar technology” for warships and air-surface missiles.