Dassault Delivers AESA Radar-Equipped Euro Fighter

More than a decade behind the U.S., the first European fighter equipped with an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar has been delivered to a customer.

Dassault delivered Rafale serial number C137, the first production aircraft equipped with a Thales RBE2 AESA, to French defense procurement agency DGA on Oct. 2.

The aircraft will be used by the French air force trials center CEAM at Mont-de-Marsan for operational evaluation of the new radar. Development flight testing is complete.

Production deliveries to operational units will not begin until mid-2013, Dassault says, as another five or six Rafales with mechanically scanned RBE radars remain to be delivered.

U.S. manufacturers, meanwhile, are moving to tap a potential 1,000-aircraft market to upgrade Lockheed Martin F-16s with AESAs, beginning with Taiwan, South Korea and the U.S. Air Force itself.

Spurred by the expectations of the export market, European fighter manufacturers are moving to catch up with their U.S. rivals on offering active-array radars. Availability of Thales’ RBE2 AESA on the Rafale was a key element in Dassault’s January victory in India’s 126-fighter medium multi-role combat aircraft competition.

In July, the four European nations behind the Typhoon fighter, which lost in India, asked the Eurofighter consortium for firm proposals to develop an AESA for fielding in 2015. Eurofighter and the Selex Galileo-led Euroradar consortium already are working on an AESA on industry funds, but a formal development contract is expected early next year.

Eurofighter, meanwhile, has begun flight testing the final set of Phase 1 Enhancements (P1E) for the Typhoon. Accomplished through two separate software releases, the P1E “robust simultaneous multirole capability” upgrade will establish the aircraft baseline for the AESA upgrade, Eurofighter says.

Upgrades

P1E upgrades to Tranche 2 production aircraft and structural changes in Tranche 3a will introduce provisions for the electronically scanned radar, the consortium says. The wing and rear fuselage for the first Tranche 3a Typhoon were delivered by Alenia Aermacchi to BAE Systems in late September.

Availability of an AESA is key in South Korea, where Eurofighter is competing against the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle and Lockheed Martin F-35 for a 60-aircraft order, with a decision expected as early as this month.

Korea plans to retrofit 134 F-16C/Ds with AESAs and has selected BAE Systems to lead the aircraft’s upgrade, but is conducting a separate competition for the radar, with incumbent Northrop Grumman offering its Sabr AESA against Raytheon’s Racr.

Lockheed Martin has been awarded the $1.85 billion contract to upgrade 145 Taiwanese F-16A/Bs, but Taiwan plans to use the AESA that the U.S. Air Force selects for its 300-aircraft F-16C/D Combat Aviation Programmed Extension Suite (Capes) upgrade.

“Taiwan has asked the U.S. government to select an AESA for them as part of the Air Force plan,” says Jim Hvizd, who is leading Raytheon’s Racr sales campaign. “Korea has a slightly different approach and is conducting its own competitive assessment.”

“Korea is working loosely with the Air Force, but Taiwan is tightly coupled,” says Joe Ensor, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems’ intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting systems division.

A U.S. Air Force request for proposals for an AESA upgrade for domestic and international F-16s is expected “any day now,” Ensor says, with award of a contract expected in the third or fourth quarter of next year.

Initial operational capability of the Air Force’s Capes upgrade is planned for 2018, which will pace foreign military sales availability of an AESA for international F-16 operators. “The earliest Taiwan could get it is 2017,” Ensor believes.

Both Northrop and Raytheon plan to offer a single baseline standard of AESA radar for both U.S. F-16C/Ds and Taiwanese F-16A/Bs, as well as subsequent customers, with Singapore in initial discussions to upgrade 60 F-16C/Ds.

For Europe, meanwhile, the availably of active-array radars in the Rafale and Saab Gripen NG could prove crucial in the Brazilian competition against the AESA-equipped Boeing F/A-18E/F for a 36-aircraft order, now expected to be decided by mid-2013.

— This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

 — by Graham Warwick

  • USA

    mby that can happen but stealth technology can get better also befor radar can detect it but either way it can go new and better radar is very important.im glad to see our allies using better TEC

  • tomatojuice

    Its funny because I was just looking at :
    http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-09/

    the other day. Through the span of 5 minutes, Taiwan got hit a majority of the time.

  • Joe

    Why do you leave out of the article all of the Israeli AESA radars that have been delivered to customers?

    Some examples are the EL/M-2052, EL/W-2085 and EL/W-2090.

  • Ron

    Sooo why does an article about the Dassault Rafale both lead with a picture of the Eurofighter Typhoon AND use the latter’s name in the actual title?

  • Montaudran

    The radar which remain to delivered aren’t “Mechanically” but Passive ESA

  • Jmos

    Correct me if I’m wrong but us arms agreement states that even if we sell AESA RADARs to the French the French could not turn around and sell thoughs jets to a not so friendly nation without U.S. approval

  • Serguei

    Like Ron, I think that a picture of Rafale would not have been wrong to illustrate this article…. Like this http://www.defense.gouv.fr/var/dicod/storage/imag

  • Serguei

    Jmos, this radar is 100% Thales made in France & UK. Not U.S.

  • Cazimir

    Reply to Montaudran, Ron, etc.
    France not being an anglo-saxon country, it is not believed to be able to develop some technology which could match the US one, in thge same manner as France was not believed to be able to develop its own nuclear deterrence force.
    Therefore:
    – the title “Euro fighter” referring to the Eurofighter typhoon – produces by anglo-saxons (UK, Germany) instead of Rafale;
    – the picture: an Eurofighter typhoon instead of a Rafale;
    – the text: France has still mechanically scanned array radar in service, although indeed we are having PESA on all the Rafales except the # C137; and
    – the article follows on with the Eurofighter which try to catch the AESA track also, and similar upgrade perspectives of the F-16.
    How to be surprise that French are “cold” allies as they are seen as sub-capable human beings since the end of the WW2 ?
    This also apply in the French research superstructure, where clearly it is therein not allowed to be in at the forefront of research (what was the case of France before 1940), but just behind…
    The same treatment applies to the slavic peoples, especially the Russians (Soviets were the first to have an ESA radar on a fighter, i.e. the Mig-31, at the very beginning of the 80’s).

  • Joe

    Be interesting to see if they can use that radar as an EW/IW capability

  • Segei

    I see you now Cow Boy do you see me

  • This development represents the precarious technological advantage of the F35 over its rivals.

    Back in 2003 the IOC for the Royal Navy’s F35 was to be this year, with the aircraft having been in US operational service for a couple of years already; now the UK F35’s IOC is not until 2019.

    Other European and North American manufacturers have been given a grace period of several years, time in which to introduce AESA radar and other hardware and software improvements to their products. Not good news for LM.