Britain’s Long-awaited Radar Two Program Breaks Cover

 - September 14, 2020, 7:05 AM
The ECRS Mk 2 features a single-jointed, rotating barrel-type repositioner, as employed by the Leonardo ES-05 Raven radar for the Gripen E/F. (Photo: BAE Systems)

UK defense minister Jeremy Quin announced in early September that a £317 million ($409 million) contract had been signed covering the integration of the new ECRS Mk 2 active electronically scanned array (AESA, or E-Scan) radar on Royal Air Force Typhoons fighters. A test and evaluation contract for the “Radar Two” project had been widely expected to allow the development of the radar to be completed.

The UK has long resisted pressure to join the existing Typhoon AESA program, insisting that it needed a more advanced radar, with electronic attack (EA) and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, in order to operate autonomously in the most challenging contested environments or to add value to a 4th/5th generation force mix.

In the wake of the contract announcement, more detailed information about the new radar emerged. ECRS Mk 2 has been developed by Italy's Leonardo group and will be integrated by BAE Systems, the UK’s prime contractor for the Typhoon.

Although designated as the ECRS (European Common Radar System) Mk 2, the new UK radar has little in common with previous AESA radars developed by the Euroradar consortium, despite sharing the same ECRS designation prefix. The ECRS Mk 0 AESA radar fitted to Kuwaiti and Qatari Typhoons, and the ECRS Mk 1 radar that is being developed for the German/Spanish retrofit program, are derivatives of the mechanically scanned (M-Scan) Captor-C, using the same back end but married to a new AESA array with a double swashplate repositioner. They are collectively known as Captor-E variants.

The ECRS Mk 2 radar does share a common interface with the platform and weapons system, via the German-supplied attack computer, and uses the same power generation and cooling, but from the power supply forward the new radar uses completely new hardware. ECRS Mk 2 has a new processor, a new receiver, a dedicated EW receiver and techniques generator, and a different repositioner that uses a single rotating joint rather than the double swashplate arrangement of Captor-E. The aircraft will feature a new radome to support the wider bandwidth that comes with ECRS Mk 2.

The Radar Two has significantly more transmit-receive elements than other radars, leading Leonardo to claim that it is the most capable AESA fighter radar in the world, while also allowing simultaneous wide-band electronic warfare operation. The ECRS Mk 2 radar makes use of both gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium nitride (GaN) semi-conductors within its array, blending the strengths of the different technologies to cost-effectively provide a differentiating military capability.

ECRS Mk 2 is built on the lineage of the Advanced Radar Targeting System (ARTS) and Bright Adder technology demonstrators, and on the ES-05 Raven radar used in the Saab Gripen E/F, rather than on the original Captor radar and the AESA-equipped Captor-E.

Bright Adder was based on the ARTS concept, using a form factor suited to the Typhoon. It was intended to be better than the Typhoon’s existing air-to-air radar, while also offering electronic attack capabilities as well. Though built as a flyable asset, the Bright Adder radar was not flown and was instead tested in Leonardo’s rooftop lab at Crewe Toll in Edinburgh. However, it will now fly in a Typhoon as part of the ECRS Mk 2 test and evaluation (T&E) effort, with several test radars and the first three production systems. The first Radar Two will fly in a Typhoon in 2022, and the T&E fleet will build steadily from there, achieving IOC (initial operational capability) for the ECRS Mk 2 soon after 2025.

The initial plan is for all 40 of the UK’s Tranche 3 aircraft to be equipped with ECRS Mk.2 equipment, though there is an option to re-equip Tranche 2 Typhoons as well. Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 aircraft have the necessary “pre-mods” to allow ECRS Mk 2 retrofit. The new radar is also being offered to export customers, including Finland, where the Typhoon offer is based on the RAF aircraft standard, with Radar Two.