GEELONG, Australia—Australia is close to choosing between Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems to upgrade the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar system by implementing technology developed by the country's defense department.

Significant but undisclosed performance improvements to these giant radars of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) are likely to result from the program. 

The effort will cost at least hundreds of millions of Australian (or U.S.) dollars for implementation and will be followed by a sustainment effort of similar expense over the 35 years of intended operation, industry sources say. The winning contractor will initially undertake sustainment, though that work will be subject to periodic competition.

The upgrade is due to begin next year and be completed by 2020.

The department is in the comfortable position of having a choice between two major contractors that are each highly familiar with the system, because Lockheed Martin maintains two of the radars while BAE maintains the other. 

Both companies confirmed to Aviation Week at the Avalon Australian International Airshow that they were bidding. A decision may be only weeks away.

The sensors, with arrays kilometers long, are placed in the Outback and peer thousands of kilometers to the north and west of the continent by bouncing high-frequency radio energy off the ionosphere. They detect targets by Doppler shift, the slight change in frequency caused by movement toward or away from the antennas, and are therefore most effective against aircraft.

Although Jindalee development began in the 1970s and the system became operational in 2003, considerable improvements in performance are still possible, a program source says, declining to elaborate.

As with earlier stages in the Jindalee program, the technology for the upgrade has been largely developed by the department’s Defense Science and Technology Group. The chosen contractor will further develop the technology for operational application and install it.

The upgrade, Project Joint 2025 Phase 6, is coming hard on the heels of the previous improvement effort, Phase 5, which was done by BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin and increased the speed, sensitivity and precision of the sensors and knitted them into the RAAF’s command and control system.

For Phase 6, low-power radio-frequency elements—the signal generator and the receivers—will be upgraded, while signal processing equipment and software is also renewed. Another change will be further improvements in command and control, to facilitate the tasking of the radars by operational commanders.

The radars are controlled from RAAF Edinburgh, a base at Adelaide, where tracks are extracted from raw data. The tracks go to RAAF Williamtown, at Newcastle, where they are fused with other sensor information to create the national tactical air picture.