FARNBOROUGH — It has been more than a decade in the making, but now the nations are one small step closer to having an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar capability in the Typhoon.
The integration of the first development EuroRadar Captor-E into atest aircraft is a significant leap ahead in keeping the European fighter relevant not only in future warfare, but also the fighter market, where many of its competitors either already have or have established a roadmap to develop an AESA radar capability.
Now all four of the partner nations—Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K.—must agree on a full-scale development contract. A decision on the contract had been expected this summer, but consortium officials now hope that a signing will take place by the end of the year.
Challenges remain, however, with financial and parliamentary constraints proving to be significant hurdles for at least some of the partners.
There has been good news: earlier this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron committed £72 million ($123 million) to reduce risk on the development of the radar as part of the U.K.’s own E-Scan Extended Assessment Phase (EAP) project. But this step is separate from the full-scale development deal, which needs to be formulated by all four member states, and is instead targeted at the development of new, U.K.-specific capabilities.
Countries like Germany are struggling to make the same sort of promises. All of that country’s defense programs are being closely scrutinized by auditors, slowing the decision process there.
"We are pretty confident the core nations will sign before the end of the year," said Alberto Gutierrez, CEO of Eurofighter, as the consortium revealed the radar fitted in in Typhoon here at Farnborough on July 15.
"There is strong support...Some nations are awaiting parliamentary approvals, but we are extremely confident."
Ground tests have proved that the radar works, but it has yet to be activated in the air. Proving flights will proceed after the air show.
The Captor-E has been fitted into BAE’s test aircraft, IPA5, which was modified with the electronics and cooling systems required for the radar’s fitment. These modifications were necessary because IPA5 is a Tranche 1 aircraft and was only fitted to be equipped with the current, mechanically scanned Captor radar.
A second test aircraft is, however, being readied in Germany. IPA8 is a Tranche 3 aircraft initially slated for the German air force. But like all Tranche 3s, it is ready to take the E-Scan radar. IPA8 will act as the second radar-test jet. The Eurofighter consortium hopes to fly IPA8 later this year, but only after the radar development deal has been signed.
Once that deal is in place, the individual countries can place their production contracts, and add their own levels of capability. The U.K. is known to have its own radar evolution program, which is studying the addition of an electronic attack capability.
The radar will initially be developed to the 1+ standard and be fully integrated into the aircraft, with the repositioners providing a 200-deg. field of view, compared to the current 120-deg. area of regard of the mechanical-scan radar.
The E-scan also has a tilt that Paul Smith, capability manager at Eurofighter, says will help reduce the aircraft’s radar return to adversaries. Officials would not say how many transmit-receive modules (TRMs) have been used in the system but say the number is in the hundreds, and that the radar can operate with up to 20% of the TRMs degraded.
The Euroradar consortium has gone down the route of using Gallium arsenide in its TRMs, rather than the newer Gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductor.
Andrew Cowdery, chairman of the board at the Euroradar consortium, says the company did not feel that the GaN technology was yet mature enough for use in the Captor-E’s TRM.
The TRMs are being dual-sourced from both the U.K. and Germany.
Smith said the first radars could be retrofitted into aircraft and be on the front line within three years.