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New Middle East Typhoons could be a game-changer

Posted 2 July 2021 · Add Comment

The Eurofighter Typhoons that will soon be delivered to Kuwait and Qatar will be the most advanced examples of the type produced to date, with phase three enhancement (P3Eb) software and the new Captor-E active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

Top-of-the-range: The most capable Typhoon flying today is this two-seat test aircraft, ISPA 6. It is fully representative of the configuration that will be delivered to the Kuwait Air Force, including the ECRS.Mk 0 version of the Captor-E radar. Picture: Alessandro Maggia.

AESA radar is a game-changer for combat aircraft, producing highly accurate weapons-quality tracks at long range, and allowing simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities.

Traditional AESA radars use a fixed antenna, consisting of hundreds of individual transmit/receive modules (TRMs) and ‘steer’ the radar beam by ‘phase shifting’. Scan patterns can be interrupted, and several beams can be transmitted simultaneously, though this naturally reduces radar range, compared to focusing all available power into a single beam.

However, AESA radars using a fixed plate antenna experience reductions in power and sensitivity whenever the radar beam is steered far from the aircraft’s extended centreline or ‘boresight’. Typically, transmitted power will be reduced by around 25% at 40° off the nose, and by 50% at 60° off the centreline, with a commensurate reduction in range. Nor can the beam normally be steered much further off the nose than 60°.

Captor-E does not suffer from this disadvantage, since a simple two-axis repositioner (consisting of two rotating wedge-shaped rings) can actually steer the AESA array to point the antenna physically, so that the radar can ‘look’ at angles beyond 90° off-boresight, and power losses at extreme azimuth angles are minimised.

This means that, after firing a beyond-visual-range (BVR) missile, the Typhoon can support it in flight, with mid-course updates, even if it turns perpendicular to the target. Doing this will cause the Typhoon to virtually disappear from the screen of an opponent’s pulse doppler radar (this is known as being ‘in the notch’), and will allow the Typhoon to stay supersonic.

With other radars, the fighter launching a missile could only ‘crank’ to a smaller ‘angle off’, and would have to slow down to delay entering the enemy aircraft’s opponent launch success zone (OLSZ), while waiting for its own missile to reach a position where it could ‘go pitbull’ (become autonomous using its own radar seeker).

The new ECRS.Mk 0 version of Captor-E is flying in a two-seat Italian Eurofighter test aircraft (CSX 55169, known as ISPA 6), which is also flying with the latest iteration of the P3Eb software.

ISPA 6 made its first flight at Turin-Caselle in December 2019, and began the so-called ‘E-SCAN XCR#1’ flight-test campaign. The pilots were Mario Mutti, chief test pilot combat aircraft and standardization for Leonardo Aircraft’s flight operations division, and Captain Enrico Scarabotto.

“The operational advantage of Captor-E has been clear since the early stages of development,” said Mutti. “E-Scan is a very sharp tool, fast in detection and track formation, already robust and consistent in and out of the track memory mode due to the instantaneous agility that the electronically steered beam provides when controlled by smart algorithms.

“The antenna repositioner allows the radar to almost instantly cover a significantly larger volume of space than a fixed plate AESA. The pilot interface is intuitive and workload is reduced by a large degree of smart automation.”

Writes Jon Lake.




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