The Eurofighter program expects to fly the UK’s new European Common Radar System Mark 2 (ECRS Mk2) radar aboard a Eurofighter test aircraft during the final quarter of 2023, leading to an initial operating capability (IOC) by 2030. The dates reflect a slight slippage: at one time, the partners expected first flight this year and hoped for an in-service date of 2025 to meet Finnish timescales. The Finnish selection of the F-35 led to a slowdown in the ECRS Mk2 program to meet UK funding timescales.
The initial operating capability date "is still subject to ministerial approval as part of that [contractual] process,” a Typhoon requirements manager told AIN. “Our target is to bring the system into service as early as we can, so 2030 is very much a backstop. If we can deliver earlier, we will do so."
ECRS Mk2 is an all-new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for the Typhoon, incorporating enhanced electronic attack capabilities. It has no hardware commonality with the original Typhoon Captor radar forward of the power supply, nor with the other AESA-equipped Captor-E variants (ECRS Mk0 for Kuwait and Qatar, ECRS Mk1 for Germany and Spain). It will, however, feature a common human-machine interface.
The new ECRS Mk2 uses a repositioner that employs a single rotating joint (as found on the ES-05 Raven radar used in the Saab Gripen E/F) rather than the double swashplate arrangement of the Captor-E. The use of a repositioner gives a much greater field of regard than possible with a conventional fixed AESA, and does so without losing performance at higher azimuth angles. The feature results in massive operational advantages, allowing pilots to turn away harder from their targets in a “classical” BVR engagement, and making them much less vulnerable to any return missile shot.
Although the repositioner and new multi-function array represent very obviously revolutionary features of ECRS Mk2, the entire radar is extremely advanced. “The boxes are probably more important than the front dish,” Ross Wilson, radar chief engineer at Leonardo, observed.
Leonardo has already produced six kits of radar LRIs (line replaceable items) in addition to the radar now being prepared for delivery to BAE Systems at Warton and another for use as a spare. The first radar to fly is actually based on the multi-function antenna originally built for the UK’s Bright Adder technology demonstration program (TDP) as a ground-based test asset. ECRS Mk2 is a natural development of the Advanced Radar Targeting System (ARTS) technology demonstrator, intended to provide an electronic attack capability for the Tornado. The Bright Adder TDP evolved from the ARTS concept, using a form factor suited to the Typhoon. Intended to outperform the Typhoon’s existing air-to-air radar, it also offers electronic attack capabilities.
The radar has already undergone extensive testing in Leonardo’s roof lab at Crewe Toll in Edinburgh, and more radar sets will undergo testing there and in BAE radar test facilities long before ECRS Mk2 flies in an aircraft. The radar is also being extensively modeled and tested in a synthetic environment, and will be modified and adapted through the implementation of 'flexible' software and algorithms.
The selected test platform (ZK355, construction number BS116) is already at BAE Systems’ Warton site undergoing preparation for its new role. Plans call for delivery of the prototype ECRS Mk2 radar to Warton by the end of the year, and a full system critical design review will be completed for the production radar. That will then complete the work funded under the Long Lead Time Activity (LLTA) 5B contract. "A robust financial case has been submitted for investment in the production of ECRS Mk2 and we await a decision from UK Government," an RAF program insider said.
BAE will use at least two test aircraft in the initial stages of the flight test campaign and plans call for two further assets to join subsequently. The radar might also fly on a “large aircraft testbed” (probably the Boeing 757 Excalibur testbed being converted to support the Tempest/FCAS ISANKE sensor suite), if funding allows.
The UK plans to field 40 Eurofighter Typhoons equipped with ECRS Mk2, representing the entire sub-fleet of RAF Tranche 3 aircraft, although Tranche 2 aircraft could be fitted with the new radar to make up numbers should attrition reduce the Tranche 3 numbers between now and then. It clearly aspires to procure more ECRS Mk2s, either to equip some Tranche 2 aircraft, or as part of a top-up buy of new Typhoons.
Provision for integrating the new radar will be made within the P4E software package, expected in late 2027 or 2028. That will introduce task-based management for the new radar (and for the current mechanically-scanned radar, too), allowing the pilot to “give the radar a task and then leave it alone to get on with it, rather than having to, for example, change the elevation manually.”
Originally conceived as a UK program, ECRS Mk2 already is attracting interest from further afield. Italy has signaled its interest in joining the program and has joined an Industrial Joint Team as the first step towards full participation, while the radar could also unlock further export opportunities.
“What we're proposing to do could look a little bit hubristic and ambitious on paper,” the Typhoon Requirements Manager told AIN. “But the foundation and the basis on which it is being built is one of unparalleled experience. We have filled the program with people who have worked together for a decade or two decades. You don't hear about people being in RAF posts for that length of time, but this is my tenth year as requirements manager. What we're doing here is pouring that experience in to allow us to pull forward everything we've learned. They're not all good lessons. Some of them are hard, painful lessons, but those painful lessons will allow us to make something this ambitious and meet the timescales we're talking about and deliver it at the level we're intending to.”