ASTOR passes big test, formal acceptance next

Farnborough Air Show » 2008
July 14, 2008, 12:08 PM

The advanced stand-off radar (ASTOR) ground surveillance system produced by Raytheon has passed a major operational test, and will be officially accepted by the UK Royal Air Force by September. Raytheon and British military officers lined up here yesterday to describe recent progress on a system that is, in fact, three years behind schedule.

The last of the five ASTOR aircraft, modified versions of the Bombardier Global Express, sits on static display.

The test involved six flights during which the radar “demonstrated excellent combination of the SAR (synthetic aperture radar) and moving target indicator (MTI) modes,” said Wing Commander Jerry Cowell, from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) ASTOR procurement team.

“We based the tests on current operational scenarios and did end-to-end systems integration testing,” he continued. That means the entire ASTOR system, including the ground stations, was tasked to collect, process and disseminate reconnaissance imagery. Some 4,610 scenes were collected, and they satisfied over 90 percent of the requests for information.

Raytheon lagged behind schedule in satisfying the MoD’s performance requirements for the MTI mode. Now, though, “neither JSTARS nor the U-2 can perform to the same standards as ASTOR,” claimed Scott Tilden, the ASTOR program manager for Raytheon. The company developed the ASTOR radar from that on the high-flying U-2. Northrup Grumman provides the radar on the JSTARS.

The Royal Air Force has accepted four ASTOR aircraft and all eight ground stations. But two of the aircraft have been handed back to Raytheon for further testing at Greenville, Texas. One of the pair now flying with No 5 Squadron at RAF Waddington was deployed to the U.S. last week for Empire Challenge, an inter-operability exercise for reconnaissance systems.

Raytheon is now considering sales opportunities elsewhere, said Tilden. These include the U.S. Army Airborne Common Sensor (ACS) requirement. “The Army has already agreed that the ASTOR outer mould line is compatible,” Tilden remarked. Maritime surveillance is another possible line of development.

During the briefing, it became clear that further development of the ASTOR system’s communications links will be required. It can already “talk” directly to JSTARS aircraft and ground stations, and vice versa. Link 16 is also onboard. But Cowell confirmed that the MoD was now defining further requirements, such as the ability to import imagery from UAVs, and even perhaps to task them.

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