Busy Defense Agenda Dominates Berlin’s ILA Show

 - September 14, 2012, 1:05 PM
A view of the ILA Berlin airshow from the Northrop Grumman pavilion. The company described progress with two versions of the Global Hawk for European applications: the SIGINT Euro Hawk version for the German Air Force (seen here in full-scale model) and the imaging radar version for NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The ILA Berlin airshow, held this week on a new site at Schonefeld Airport, remains largely a regional event driven by German industry and government requirements. News of the merger talks between EADS and BAE Systems broke halfway through the event, although not by design, a senior EADS official told AIN. But there was other important defense news announced or discussed at the show.

Airbus Military reported on the second unintended separation of a refueling boom from an A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). The incident occurred over Spain on September 10, to the second aircraft destined for the United Arab Emirates Air Force. The boom was deployed at the time, but no receiver aircraft was involved. The boom fell into an unpopulated area, and the A330MRTT landed safely. The company said it already understands the cause of the incident, which did not warrant the suspension of refueling operations by the boom-equipped tankers already flying for Australia and Saudi Arabia.

MBDA reported good progress in adapting industrial lasers for defense purpose, work that is being done largely by its German company. “We are leading the world in this technology,” claimed Peter Heilmeier of MBDA Germany.

Another project being led by German engineers is the EADS development of passive coherent location (PCL), a technique for locating aircraft for ATC or air defense purposes by analyzing the radiation reflections from other emitters such as radio and television stations. EADS has been working on PCL for some years, but now refers to the development as “passive radar.” It has the potential to detect stealth aircraft. EADS project manager Frank Bernhardt claimed world technical leadership in this field. “We don’t know of any other system that has fused the inputs from three different emitter bands,“ he said.

Eurocopter staged a formal handover ceremony for the German Army CH-53GA heavy-lift helicopter upgrade. Forty of the 84-strong fleet are being modified with new avionics from Rockwell Collins; an electronic warfare system from EADS Cassidian; forward-looking infrared from Selex-Galileo; a new communications system; and an internal fuel tank to boost range.

Given this investment, Germany seems unlikely to embrace the Future Transport Helicopter (FTH) project that Boeing and Eurocopter unveiled two years ago at ILA 2010. Eurocopter did display a full-scale cross-section of the FTH this time, but Boeing director of rotorcraft business development Mark Ballen was noncommittal about the FTH’s prospects in a briefing that emphasized he continuing merits of the CH-47 Chinook.

Finally, a briefing by the transatlantic team developing the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) reported that progress toward a first intercept test flight later this year was on time and on budget. However, the team acknowledged that although development funding had been preserved, a production contract was uncertain, although individual elements of the system might be purchased to boost air defense systems that are already in service.