Maritime surveillance is evolving despite the need for militaries to balance high-tech requirements with budget austerity. Developments underway in the U.K., France and Israel highlight efforts to realize the most return on investment, by adding versatile surveillance capabilities to airborne and sea-based platforms without the expense and potential delays of full-fledged program development.

Concerns about maritime surveillance were expressed in the U.K. as far back as 2010. The Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) issued that year had one expected but serious program cancellation: the Nimrod MRA4 (maritime reconnaissance and attack) aircraft. Eliminating the 12 planned aircraft, which were to replace the Nimrod fleet of two-dozen aircraft, left the U.K. with a large gap in maritime surveillance capabilities.

The official line was that maritime surveillance and associated duties such as search and rescue would be conducted by a mix of escorts, embarked helicopters (Westland Sea King airborne surveillance and control, Merlin HM2 and Lynx HAS8), Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS and Lockheed Martin C-130K/J Hercules aircraft—which have had a search-and-rescue mission in the Falkland Islands for some time. Few are convinced that this is a credible mix in the absence of a fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft capability.

New capabilities for maritime surveillance, though, have been identified. The Raytheon R1 Sentinel has been used in operations over Afghanistan for more than five years, but showed during the 2011 Libya operation that its radar had capabilities for littoral missions and even elements of sea-surface surveillance using existing search-and-rescue capabilities. Studies are underway to see how Sentinel could be optimized, via software tweaks, for maritime surveillance. This helped the case for retaining Sentinel: It was, like Nimrod, slated for retirement in the 2010 SDSR.

The best news in this capability area is that the Defense Ministry confirmed the Crowsnest maritime surveillance system. Unspent money in this year's budget will be diverted to launch the formal assessment phase of the program, which will replace Sea King helicopters after 2016. The program had been delayed until 2020-22, so pulling forward the capability, deemed essential for the country's two new aircraft carriers, is major news. In the earliest phases, Crowsnest will likely be based on Merlin HM2 helicopters, although there have been thoughts for future deck-launched unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

The newest addition to the U.K.'s maritime surveillance capabilities is the award of a contract last June to Boeing Insitu for Scan Eagle UAVs. These will be deployed from Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels for persistent surveillance. The requirement was pending for years—Scan Eagle was first tested in the mid-2000s by the Royal Navy—but came to the fore during anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa.

The future of U.K. maritime surveillance is set to be a mix-and-match of capabilities, rather than one system. However, the aim is to regenerate the fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft capability, as far as budgets allow. Royal Navy and RAF personnel have been training with U.S. Navy Lockheed Martin P-3 Orions to maintain readiness in this area.

And recent comments by First Sea Lord and Chief of Air Staff Adm. George Zambellas suggest the U.K. will start a full regeneration of fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft, possibly with some capability before the end of the decade. There is no money at this stage for any new aircraft, as the budget is 80% committed to current programs until 2023.

But there is talk about some form of wet-lease aircraft provided by industry and configured for simple maritime patrol. Platforms under consideration include RAF C-130Js, as that model starts to leave service at the end of the decade, or the Airbus Military C295.

The lack of adequate maritime surveillance capabilities was brought tragically home to Europe in October when hundreds of African migrants drowned in tragedies off Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa. Two new maritime surveillance programs, the joint Italian/United Arab Emirates (UAE) development of a maritime patrol aircraft and the French Adroit OPV (offshore patrol vessel), currently being put through its paces by the French navy, should help prevent future tragedies.

Piaggio Aero is developing a multirole patrol aircraft (MPA) in partnership with Abu Dhabi Autonomous System Investments, a subsidiary of Tawazun that manages complex military programs for the UAE.

Eligio Trombetta, Piaggio Aero's general manager, says the €100 million ($135 million) program is on schedule and “no unexpected problems” have arisen. Wind-tunnel tests “fully validate” the aerodynamic design of the aircraft and structural tests are underway.

So far, the prototype model, the P1AA, is almost complete and underwent taxi trials last February. The aircraft will not perform low-speed taxi trials until late summer 2014 prior to a first flight scheduled for the fourth quarter next year, Trombetta says.

The wing of the first aircraft is being assembled and the vehicle is “taking shape in the shop,” he adds. Reports of the “almost complete” model on display at this year's Paris air show were incorrect, Trombetta notes, and should have specified that the aircraft was the P1AA, not the MPA version.

The wingspan of 21.37 meters (70 ft.) is much bigger than the 14-meter wingspan of the P180 on which it is loosely based. “This allows us to fit much bigger fuel tanks in the wings, and with two additional tanks in the fuselage the aircraft will carry 5,300 lb. of fuel,” he remarks, allowing it to patrol at low altitude for up to 7 hr., or at high altitude for more than 10 hr.

Trombetta says the aim is to enable the aircraft's mission-patrol systems (supplied by Saab, which has a €15.5 million share of the program) to be remotely controlled. “This means the aircraft could be flown by a minimum crew while system operators remain ground-based, thereby reducing operating costs to the level of the [Piaggio] P180 [Avanti].”

Meanwhile, the Adroit, a self-funded development of French naval systems group DCNS, is mission-proven. Since its launch in summer 2011, Adroit has been on loan to the French navy, which sailed it more than 87,000 nm.

Cmdr. Christophe Mitjavile points out the ship can stay at sea more than 200 days (the norm is less than 100), but to do so it needs two revolving crews of 32. “This number is acceptable for [2-3-week] missions, but beyond that we need additional sailors,” he says. The vessel accommodates a total of 59 people.

The 87-meter-long ship, which displaces 1,500 tons, launches two rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) from rear ramps. The flight deck handles one 10-ton-class helicopter such as the NH90 Caiman, and a 5-ton-class helicopter fits in the hangar.

Mitjavile says the ship handles well in rough seas due to its passive stabilization system. The 360-deg. panoramic 3-in-1 bridge for navigation, mission command and control, and flight operations “improves internal coordination for sailing, port maneuvers, in-sight operations, RHIB launching and recovery, helicopter and UAV operations, and defense.” But, he adds, “during high-intensity operations there is too much noise, so more microphones, headsets and even a removable wall (there is currently just a curtain) between the operations room and navigation area would be improvements.”

The French navy has no plans to buy the boat and will return the vessel to DCNS next year.

“But using it for three years has given us a clear idea of what we want for our next-generation OPV,” Mitjavile remarks.

Active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technologies have evolved from large systems for naval and ground radars to smaller, highly capable airborne sensors. When applied in 360-deg. scanning modes, these arrays are often heavier and more expensive than legacy rotating radars, but offer improved operational flexibility and reliability.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)/Elta is working on a new version of its popular EL/M-2022 maritime surveillance radar that would take this industry-leading system to the future. Designated EL/M-2022ES, the system has a mechanically scanned AESA, state-of-the-art processors and advanced algorithms, which elevate it into a full-featured intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensor for the littorals. The radar is undergoing airborne qualification tests, and deliveries are slated by mid-2015.

The EL/M-2022ES combines mechanical scan in the horizontal plane with fine-beam shifting and full electronic scan in the vertical plane, enabling efficient use of the radar in simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-surface modes, which improves detection, particularly in high seas. The reliability and availability of the radar significantly improves with AESA technology, eliminating single point-of-failure modes that occur in some legacy radars.

“We implemented all of the proven operating modes of the 2022 family, and improved or added new ones derived from the unique capabilities of phased-array technology,” says Simon Menicovici, who serves as head of maritime surveillance radar systems at IAI/Elta.

“Using state-of-the-art signal processors based on the latest multicore processors, the system enables advanced processing and implementation of new algorithms that take maximum advantage of phased array technology—with significant improvement in high-seas performance—imaging modes such as inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR), which is enabled simultaneously throughout the rotating scan, and ground-moving target indication modes,” he adds.

With the sensor, a platform that was limited to maritime surveillance and search will support imaging modes by radar and ISAR for better target identification, thus becoming a true ISR platform. By adding aerial surveillance, more maritime surveillance nodes will be equipped to detect and track air traffic in sparsely monitored maritime domains and littorals. Aerostats and helicopter applications will provide useful combinations of maritime and air-surveillance advantages.

“We intend to field the EL/M-2022ES with all platforms that operate 2022 family radars; therefore, we selected the Heron I UAV as a benchmark,” Menicovici says. Typically, space, weight, cooling and power resources are more stringent on unmanned aircraft than other airborne platforms. Anything that flies on the Heron I can be used on other platforms.

While an upgrade of existing radars would not be economical, the 2022ES interfaces to other systems will be mostly unchanged, minimizing integration requirements for existing systems.