After a long gestation, the active electronically scanned array (AESA, or e-scan) radar for the Eurofighter Typhoon is now in production with the Euroradar consortium of Leonardo (UK and Italy), Hensoldt (Germany), and Indra (Spain). Gulf region military forces are now among the export customers for this technology.
The first production AESA radar is known as the Eurofighter Common Radar System (ECRS) Mk0. Also called Captor-E, the sensor is derived from the “back end” of the Typhoon’s original radar, the mechanically-scanned array Captor-M.
ECRS Mk0 radars are initially being fielded in export aircraft, beginning with the Typhoons for Kuwait and followed by those for Qatar. However, the four Typhoon partner nations (Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK) have taken their time in committing to providing an e-scan radar for their own aircraft, but now there are two separate programs to equip the Typhoon with AESA radars, both of which offer significant advances in capability and functionality over the Mk0. These advances may also be part of future export drives for both new-build aircraft and to retrofit existing Typhoons.
With the four partner nations the Typhoon is expected to serve until at least 2060 and, as such, is slated to operate as part of the two Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programs that are in the early stages of development. The advances being made in the radars will prepare the Typhoon for life alongside the new FCAS aircraft. Not surprisingly, the two development paths for the radar are aligned with the two FCAS projects, with Germany and Spain joining forces in one camp, and Italy and the UK in the other.
Germany and Spain
Germany was the first of the four partner nations to commit to an AESA radar for the Typhoon, contracting Hensoldt to develop and supply 150 new radars to retrofit the Luftwaffe’s Tranche 2 and 3 Typhoons, as well as the 38 new-build Tranche 4 aircraft that were ordered in November 2020 to replace early Tranche 1 Typhoons under Project Quadriga. There is also the potential for 45 new Tranche 5 Typhoons to replace the Luftwaffe’s Tornados, and Spain is likely to order 20 new Typhoons under its Halcon project, and could also upgrade older aircraft.
These aircraft will be fitted with the ECRS Mk1 radar, which is now in development by Hensoldt. While using Mk0 components, the Mk1 introduces a new digital multi-channel receiver and new transmit-receive modules that significantly enhance frequency range and target recognition ability. The greater capabilities also open up potential for new applications such as electronic attack and ultra-high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (UHR-SAR) imaging.
Deliveries of new radars are due to begin in 2023, but they will initially be in Mk0 configuration. The Mk1-specific modules will be available from 2026, and new radars delivered from that date will be in full Mk1 configuration. The earlier radars can be easily upgraded by the rapid exchange of one major module and some cabling. Initial Mk1s will be delivered as Step 1 radars, with considerably expanded capability over the Mk0. Since July 2021 Spain’s Indra has been a partner in the ECRS Mk1 program, and is now working with Hensoldt on the development of the Step 2 iteration. This represents a major software upgrade that will further exploit the processing capabilities inherent in the system, adding electronic attack/warfare functions and the ability to conduct UHR-SAR imaging.
UK and Italy
In the meantime, a separate Typhoon AESA radar program is being undertaken by Leonardo on behalf of the UK, which was officially launched in September 2020 with BAE Systems as the lead integrator. In September this year, Italy officially joined what is known as the ECRS Mk2 radar, also referred to as Radar Two.
Initial planning covers the retrofit of 40 Royal Air Force Tranche 3 Typhoons for some time in the second half of the 2020s, with prospects of Tranche 2 retrofits and similar programs for the Italian air force. The ECRS Mk2 is also being offered for export, and is part of the Typhoon proposal for Finland.
ECRS Mk 2 is much more of a new radar than the Captor-based Mk1. The interface with the aircraft—including attack computer, power, and cooling—remains the same, but much of the hardware is of the new design. The multi-function antenna array has more transmit/receive modules, with a mix of gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium nitride (GaN) elements. Whereas the Mk1 retains the double-swashplate mechanical repositioner of the Mk0, the Mk2 has a rotating drum-type repositioner, as first employed by the Leonardo ES-05 Raven radar developed for the Saab Gripen E/F.
A new processor, new receiver and dedicated electronic warfare receiver and techniques generator are installed, greatly expanding the system’s detection capabilities while also adding the ability to conduct electronic attack and jamming in the defense suppression role. A new radome, being developed by Meggitt, is also required for the aircraft to cater to the radar’s wider bandwidth. An initial test ECRS Mk2 is due to fly in a Typhoon next year.