22 September 2014

Australia’s Jindalee Radar System Gets Performance Boost

22 September 2014

The RAAF does not operate Jindalee continuously, because of cost and the lack of a peacetime need to do so. But the low-power modes now available clearly raise the possibility of using the radars more often. (all images : RAAF)

Australia has to choose its defense technology programs carefully. While the country expects to field advanced armed forces, with a population of 24 million it lacks the money and depth of engineering expertise for much domestic development.

But for decades Australia has tirelessly pursued one particularly difficult program: Jindalee, an over-the-horizon radar system that answers the national problem of how to economically monitor the vast maritime approaches of a continent. 

With little publicity, the defense department and its contractors have completed a major upgrade of Jindalee, whose three enormous antenna installations, ranged across the Outback, bounce high-frequency radio beams off the ionosphere to observe aircraft and ships at least 3,000 km (1,900 mi.) away, perhaps as far as the South China Sea. The upgrade has increased the speed, sensitivity and precision of the sensors, and knitted them into the national command and control system of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

The department plans to seek preliminary approval for further enhancements by June 2015, although the focus of development effort is now moving to ensuring that the RAAF can operate the system, formally known as the Jindalee Operational Radar Network, until around 2040.

Australia does not disclose much about Jindalee, usually describing little more than its operating principles. But in an interview with Aviation Week the department’s acquisition agency, the Defense Material Organization (DMO), has detailed the achievements of the latest upgrade and the aims of the next, while still withholding most numerical measures of performance.

The upgrade was Phase 5 of the Jindalee program, Joint Project 2025. Defense Minister David Johnston revealed completion of Phase 5 on May 28, saying it had reached final operational capability. That level was in fact attained late last year, says Air Commo. Mike Walkington of the DMO.

The upgrade was delivered two years late, partly because of a skills shortage, but achieved almost all the -specifications and came in under budget, says Walkington. The work was performed by the Australian operations of Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems, with support and advice from the Defense Science & Technology Organization. The budget has not been disclosed.

Thanks to Phase 5, the radars at Laverton, Western Australia, and Longreach, Queensland, have been bought up to the standard of the original installation in the center of the continent, at Alice Springs, Northern Territory. As a developmental system benefiting from constant tinkering, the Alice Springs radar was more advanced. Now they are the same and the Alice Springs radar is integrated as an operational installation. It no longer has a special status; any of the three can be used for further development work, says Walkington.

As is usual with major improvements to defense systems, Phase 5 relied on faster electronics. The arrays now collect much more data, which are sent in basically raw form to RAAF Edinburgh, a base near Adelaide, South Australia, where the radars are controlled. Bandwidth between the arrays and the base had to be greatly enlarged.

See full srticle at Aviation Week

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