AESA Radars Set To Bolster Eurofighter Capability

Eurofighter Typhoon
Credit: Eurofighter

RAF FAIRFORD, England—The integration of new radars into the Eurofighter Typhoon looks set to bring a step change in the platform’s capability.

The UK Defense Ministry recently awarded BAE Systems and Leonardo UK a five-year, £870 million ($1.11 billion) contract to complete development of the European Common Radar System (ECRS) Mk. 2 sensor and ready it for series production to equip the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) fleet of 40 Tranche 3 Eurofighters at the end of the decade.

Under development for the last 10 years, the radar is touted as the most advanced of the three active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars in development for the pan-European fighter. The UK already has spent £800 million on its development through a series of technology programs, and now the companies are gearing up to install the prototype radar into a flight-test aircraft ahead of airborne trials in 2024.

“This contract takes that prototype radar and that initial design work and turns it into a capability,” Lyndon Hoyle, head of the Typhoon delivery team at the UK Defense Equipment and Support (DE&S) agency, told journalists at BAE Systems facilities in Warton, England, ahead of the Royal International Air Tattoo.

The development of the radar is part of a £2.35 billion investment in the fighter by the British government that was announced at last years’ Air Tattoo, and one which officials hope may encourage export customers such as Saudi Arabia to sign for a follow-up order. Just last month, the head of the joint venture company that coordinates the Eurofighter program, Giancarlo Mezzanatto told journalists at the Paris Air Show that as many as 200 more orders for the fighter could be secured in just the next two years, in addition to top-up orders already placed by Germany and Spain.

The introduction of the ECRS Mk. 2 sensor as well as the Mk. 1 radar being developed for Germany and Spain will require changes to the aircraft’s human-machine interface, and displays and controls, says Wing Cmdr. David Boulton, the RAF’s ECRS Mk. 2 capability delivery director, speaking at the same event. There are plans to introduce a so-called task-based management software to support the pilot, rather than radar-mode-based management as previously used on the aircraft.

“We need to change the philosophy of how the pilot interacts with the radar and sensors,” Boulton says.

“It is now too complex for a pilot to switch between different modes, that has to be far more automated . . . this is a software effort, but not a trivial one,” Boulton adds.

Radar 2—as ECRS Mk. 2 is colloquially known—is the latest of three Eurofighter AESA sensors so far developed. Compared with the Mk. 0 and Mk. 1 versions, Radar 2 will feature a new processor, receiver and dedicated electronic-warfare receiver and techniques generator. A new mechanism for rotating the swashplate will give the radar an increased field of view, particularly for beyond-visual range aerial engagements. The radar’s antenna also sits behind a new specially designed radome.

The high power and large antenna make the radar particularly sensitive, say officials, and will give Eurofighter additional stand-off air-to-surface capabilities as well as perform electronic surveillance to seek out radar emitters. An electronic-attack capability will be able to degrade adversary radars.

The new contract calls for building 12 radars for development, with several expected to be refurbished later for the production contract.

BAE Systems is performing ground tests of the prototype radar in its radar integration facility here, following delivery of the sensor by Leonardo UK in April. These ground trials involve the radar poking out from a multi-story building and staring at air traffic flying from the Manchester and Liverpool airports.

The RAF plans to fit Radar 2 only to its Tranche 3 aircraft, which were designed with the wiring and internal infrastructure for the fitting of an AESA radar. The RAF is not discounting the potential of fitting it to its Tranche 2 aircraft, although this would require more invasive work to fit the radars.

Italy also has expressed an interest in the sensor for its Eurofighters, and engineers from Leonardo’s Italy-based defense electronics business are working with the counterparts in the UK in support of that effort.

Other elements of the of the £2.35 billion work include the UK’s contribution to the Phase 4 Enhancements (P4E) for which a system-definition phase is underway with the nations thinning out their wish lists for what they want to integrate onto the platform before the end of the decade.

Elements of P4E includes the integration of the AESA radars, and the task-based management system for the radar as well as upgrades for the defensive aids suite.

Other Eurofighter partner nations have made submissions into the P4E including the addition of a suppression and destruction of air-defense capability as well as integration of other stand-off missiles.

UK officials would not confirm whether integration of the MBDA-developed Spear 3 small cruise missile will be included in P4E. P4E is due to be delivered from 2028 onward with contracting expected around 2025. A series production contract for the radar also is expected in 2025.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.