09 Januari 2011

Airborne Radar: Interception, Early Warning & Ground Surveillance Systems (2)

09 Januari 2011

Chinese Shaanxi ZDK-03, the radar can detect target to 350 km range, have max operating ceiling 10,4 km and max endurance 8 hours. (photo : china defense)

China is very interested in obtaining world-class AWACS capabilities. For the past decade, aside from the failed Phalcon negotiations, Beijing has been actively pursuing airborne radar technology, both from external and indigenous sources. In 2006 an in indigenously built AWACS prototype crashed during testing, killing some thirty of the country’s best technicians. Since then, the Chinese have developed a modern system that is also being sold to Pakistan.

Known as the Shaanxi ZDK-03 AEW&C system, it is believed to be a new variant of the Shaanxi Y8 AEW&C system produced by the Shaanxi Aircraft Company in China, and one of a total of four on order are expected to be in-country before the end of 2011. Few concrete details of the ZDK-03 are known, but the radar is believed to be highly advanced with a greater range than the Saab 2000 Erieye procured by Thailand; and is housed in a four-turboprop aircraft.

Chinese KJ-2000, the radar can detect target to 300 km range, have max operating ceiling 12,0 km and max endurance 7,7 hours. (photo : Jeffhead)

The current AEW&C technology in use with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has grown out of the failed attempt to acquire the foreign Phalcon. Working with the original A-501 airframe from the abandoned programme, China modified and fitted it with an indigenously designed and built radar, along with another three converted IL-76MD transport aircraft. The radar is believed to be similar to the Phalcon but inferior in ability in terms of ability to track multiple targets simultaneously in low light and bad weather conditions. The radar also does not rotate; it is a three-sided electronically steered array (ESA) radar, three of which are housed inside a round radome in a triangular configuration to give 360° coverage.

The Israeli Phalcon has also seen success with the sale of the radar system to Singapore in 2007. Singapore currently uses four US E2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft for surveillance, and will be replacing these with the Phalcon radar fitted into Gulfstream 550 aircraft. Being a phased array radar, the Phalcon is able to detect electronic equipment within a radius of 400km, and updates aircraft position on operating screens ever 2-4 seconds, which is far superior to the Northrop Grumman E2C that has formed the backbone of the US AWACS for more than two decades.

Singapore’s G550 CAEW equipped with AESA radar, can detect target to 400 km range, have max operating ceiling 15,5 km and max endurance 9 hours. (photo : Airliners)

The Singapore system uses modified Gulfstream G550 business jets, and features a sophisticated mission suite. Few specific details have been revealed about the aircraft, but it is believed they will take a similar form to the G550 Conformal AEW (CAEW) that entered service with the Israeli Air Force in 2008, and has a mission endurance of more than nine hours and dual S-band radar arrays and L-band sensors giving 360° coverage. According to the Ministry of Defence, the new aircraft will enhance the creation of the RSAF’s air situation picture and its identification capability as part of the networked air defence system.


Australia’s Boeing 737 Wedgetail equipped with MESA radar, can detect target to 400 km range, have max operating ceiling 12,5 km and max endurance 9 hours. (photo : Airliners)

In May this year Australia accepted the first two Wedgetail 737 AEW&C aircraft into the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The Boeing contract is part of Project Wedgetail, the RAAF’s programme to acquire an AEW&C capability to give enhanced surveillance capability to the nation’s air defences.

The contract with Boeing will see a total of six aircraft delivered to the RAAF, as well as ground support segments for mission crew training, mission support and ongoing system maintenance. The 737 AEW&C aircraft features the advanced Northrop Grumman multi-role electronically scanned array (MESA) radar with integrated identification friend-or-foe capabilities. It also features ten state-of-the-art mission crew consoles capable of tracking airborne and naval targets simultaneously, giving the RAAF an airborne battle management capability it needs to meet the defence challenges presented by a nation with land and coastal areas of such vast size.

South Korea’s Boeing 737 Peace Eye equipped with MESA radar, can detect target to 400 km range, have max operating ceiling 12,5 km and max endurance 9 hours. (photo : Airliners)

The project is the first time a Boeing 737 aircraft has been converted into an AEW&C platform, and the success of the programme has opened the door to other customers within the region. South Korea signed a contract with Boeing in 2006 for four AEW&C systems along with ground support, training and system modification support. The first aircraft will be delivered in 2011, with the remaining three being modified and fitted by Korea Aerospace Industries in country. The South Korea programme is known as the E-X737 AEW&C programme.

Elsewhere in the region, Boeing has seen success with their 767 AWACS aircraft that were sold to the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) in the late 1990s. They were acquired by Japan to carry out C2 operations and airborne surveillance for tactical and air defence forces. In 2006 US Congress was notified that of a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of four sets of Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and Command, Control and Communications (C3) mission equipment/Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) Group A and B kits, plus spares and services in order to update the AWACS equipment on board the four 767 aircraft.

Japan’s Boeing 767 AWACS, the radar can detect target to 320 km range, have max operating ceiling 12,2 km and max endurance 9,25 hours. (photo : JASDF)

The contract for the work was signed in November 2006, and the aircraft were to receive new radar, computer, radar control maintenance panel and software upgrades to the radar mission system programmes in order to increase the radar’s sensitivity, allowing it to detect and track smaller targets with higher reliability overall. In July 2010 a further contract was signed between the JASDF and Boeing Integrated Defence Systems for mission navigation system upgrades to the four AWACS aircraft. The navigation system is based on two LN-100G inertial navigation systems supplied by Northrop Grumman.

These and other systems are vying for the attention of Asian armed forces intent on upgrading their antiquated air defence systems. For countries experiencing downward pressure on defence budgets, investing in a single platform that is able to carry out a wide spectrum of operations including early airborne warning and control, national security, border control, airborne command and control as well as disaster management, makes sense. The force multiplier effect of airborne radar platforms in this way also enables the existing assets and infrastructure to operate to their full capability, and will continue to drive interest in the market over the coming years as armed forces look to streamline and augment their aerial defences with the leading market technology.

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