Grifo-E on Target to Hit Key Development Milestones

 - December 13, 2018, 10:11 AM
Grifo E is compact enough to be applicable to a range of light fighter/attack types. (photo: Leonardo)

Leonardo expects to roll out the first prototype of the new electronically-scanned (e-scan) version of its Grifo fire control radar by mid-2019, targeting a maiden flight of the sensor by the end of the same year. Launched in July 2018, the Grifo-E is derived from the company’s mechanically-scanned (m-scan) family of Grifo radars developed at its Nerviano, Italy, facility, and is a gallium nitride (GaN), liquid-cooled, eight-channel receiver active electronically-scanned array radar.  

Its development is aimed at offering the sought-after e-scan capability to customers who wish to add this technology to light attack platforms, and at a lower cost point than systems integrated on high-end fighters. During the initial phase of testing, a basic set of modes will be used, but, by 2020, both the legacy and new modes will be integrated.

“Our aim is to complete this development by the end of next year,” Federico Scannapieco, senior v-p for radar and advanced targeting (Italy) for Leonardo, told AIN at Nerviano in December. He added that Leonardo is hoping that a launch customer will help steer the direction of the later tests of the program, integrating their modes into the radar to tailor it accordingly, and to ultimately help facilitate completion of radar testing.

The antenna for Grifo-E fits an aircraft the size of an M-346, but the company is open to incorporating it into different aircraft types depending on the requirements and it is exploring different options for the trials, although flight testing will start on a rotorcraft.

E-scan fire control radar development for the company is typically carried out at its Edinburgh, Scotland site, where radars for the Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen E are manufactured, although the receiver and processor for the new variant are being jointly designed by the UK and Italian divisions of the company.

It is using elements of the higher-end designs to incorporate into Grifo-E, and the decision to incorporate GaN into the design was driven by an identified target market for fighters including the Northrop Grumman F-5 and Dassault Mirage. Leonardo has also identified the Aero Vodochody L-159/259 as a potential aircraft for integration, which could offer an alternative to the Israeli sensor currently being offered for the latter variant. The L-159 is already fitted with an m-scan Grifo L radar.

Leonardo is expecting that 60 percent of the demand will come from customers wishing to retrofit existing aircraft, and the remaining 40 percent will come from new-build light attack aircraft, although most of the existing customers of Grifo are unlikely to make the jump to the e-scan because of the age of some of the aircraft that they operate. Scannapieco added that the m-scan version of Grifo is already compatible with an array of weapon types, and this will be carried through to the e-scan version.

While e-scan development is a clear consideration for the company, he added that m-scan development “isn’t dead”, as the cost of an electronically-scanned radar is some 50 percent more in initial expenditure for a customer, which may deter some from buying this level of technology. “The evolution of the combat radar is inevitably going in the direction of e-scan,” Scannapieco said, “although we still believe m-scan has a market”.

The next development for the radars will be the incorporation of solid-state technology as it begins to reach a required level of reliability to replace the traveling wave tube currently used, and a transmitter with this feature is expected to be ready by 2020.