After completion of a ?90 million ($139 million) development program funded by five countries for nearly six years, Europe has developed significant new technology for air-to-ground surveillance. But the work may not be fully exploited, since the intended follow-on program has been cancelled.
France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain approved the SOSTAR (stand-off surveillance and target acquisition radar) project in late 2001. The plan was to boost European capability so that an equal contribution could subsequently be made to the transatlantic cooperative AGS radar (TCAR). The TCAR was to incorporate the best of U.S. and European technology and be installed in a new fleet of air-to-ground surveillance aircraft for NATO–manned Airbus A321 airliners and Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles.
But in September 2007, NATO finally balked at the potential cost of the AGS program and scaled it back. The A321s were scrapped and so was the TCAR. The Global Hawk scheme is still alive within AGS, but the aircraft would be equipped with the U.S.-designed MP-RTIP radar instead.
That’s a great shame, according to Peter Hoogeboom, the senior radar adviser to TNO Defence, a Dutch company that was one of the five partners in SOSTAR Gmbh, the joint venture that developed and flight-tested the SOSTAR-X demonstrator. The other partners were EADS Defence & Security (Germany); Galileo Avionica (Italy); Indra (Spain) and Thales (France).
“We successfully developed a next-generation scalable radar system using an active electronically scanning antenna [AESA]. We demonstrated simultaneous operation in SAR [synthetic aperture radar] and MTI [moving target indicator] modes for the first time in Europe,” said Hoogeboom.
We showed continuous tracking of selected areas and targets, and high revisit rates. In the fast sector scan MTI mode, we developed a specific real-time tracker function and met all the requirements for range and minimum target velocity. We also did spectral classification.”
The SOSTAR work culminated in flying trials with a modified Fokker 100 airliner.
This aircraft carried the AESA, radar processors and two onboard work stations. A Ku-band datalink to a ground station provided by EADS CASA was also tested,
although most of the data was recorded onboard for postflight evaluation.
Following the final planned flight of the Fokker 100 on Sept. 20, 2007, and the NATO decision to cancel the TCAR, the SOSTAR partners proposed an extension of their program to gain more experience and further develop the radar modes, but the five governments declined the offer.
“The next step is a big issue,” said Hoogeboom. However, at least four of the five partner nations are evaluating whether they can apply the valuable work done in the SOSTAR demonstration to other programs. For instance, Thales and Indra recently joined forces with Dassault to offer the French and Spanish governments a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) surveillance UAV based on the Israeli Heron TP. This UAV could carry a radar derived from SOSTAR technology.
[Peter Hoogeboom was speaking at the Air Surveillance and Reconnaissance Conference, organized annually in London by IQPC. For more details visit www. defenceiq.com.–Ed.]