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Eurofighter’s New Radar Is Nearly Ready But Royal Air Force Wants An Even Better One

The June 2020 agreement for 110 Captor-E radars for Germany and an initial batch of five radars for Spain is significant in that it is the first such order from the partner nations involved in the Eurofighter program. The Airbus media release said the contract foresees the delivery and integration of the radars by 2023. “Whereas the Airbus sites in Manching, Germany, and Getafe, Spain, will act as overall integration hub, the development and building of the radar will be subcontracted to a consortium under the leadership of Hensoldt and Indra and by participation of further Eurofighter partner companies,” according to the statement.

Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, said: “The contract for the Captor-E radar is a main achievement to equip Eurofighter with sensors that ensure today’s dominance of the aircraft also in the threat scenarios of tomorrow.”

Eurofighter’s Complicated E-Scan Origins

The European Common Radar System for the Typhoon is a complicated collection of projects that are being run by the overarching EuroRadar consortium comprising Leonardo in the United Kingdom and Italy, Indra in Spain, and Hensoldt in Germany. EuroRadar has already manufactured over 400 mechanically-scanned Captor radars for the existing Eurofighters that are in service, and an eagerly-awaited AESA follow-on dates back to early demonstrator flight trials in 2006 and 2007 under a project known as CAESAR (Captor AESA Radar).

As long ago as 2012, then Eurofighter CEO Enzo Casolini said the E-Scan radar was “in full development,” as the partners sought to dispel confusion over the exact status of the radar with talk of an agreement by the end of 2012. “We started development, the gate target is to have entry to service in 2015,” Casolini said.

At the Farnborough International Air Show in 2014, BAE Systems, Eurofighter, and EuroRadar held a public unveiling of a production representative Euroradar Captor-E, fitted to BAE Systems-operated Eurofighter Instrumented Production Aircraft 5 (IPA5) serial ZJ700. The aircraft flew into the event with the radar fitted and Eurofighter declared that a trials program was under way. A second aircraft, a two-seat new-build Tranche 3 production batch aircraft (IPA8), was also in construction in Manching, Germany, ready to join the combined E-Scan test program.

Significantly, at the time of the unveiling, a contract for the radar was still not signed, with work being undertaken with contractor funding. However, speaking at Farnborough in 2014, the then British Minister for Defense Equipment, Support and Technology Phillip Dunne said that he expected to have a radar contract in place by the end of 2014. In fact, a €1 billion contract for the core development program of the common Captor-E radar was funded by the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and Spain in November 2014.

Captor-E Moves Into Flight-Test

A further two years passed before the Captor-E entered flight trials at BAE Systems’ site in Warton, Lancashire, when Typhoon IPA5 undertook a flight of around one hour on July 8, 2016. A media release said that IPA8 in Germany was also set to join the integration program. The kick-start came due to a pressing need to ensure the radar and weapons system would reach the required capability in time for first deliveries in late 2020 to the Kuwaiti Air Force, which became the aircraft’s eighth customer in April 2016 with an order for 28 jets. Importantly, Kuwait was the first Eurofighter operator to order the Captor-E for its aircraft and will be the first to operate with it.

In addition, Qatar ordered 24 Eurofighters in 2017. It too required Captor-E, and despite none of the original European partners having ordered the radar, more vital funding was flowing into the E-Scan project with these new foreign customers.

The latest radar order fits into a major enhancement project that was recently outlined for the Luftwaffe’s Eurofighters. Germany originally purchased 143 aircraft, consisting of 33 early Tranche 1 aircraft, 79 from Tranche 2, and 31 Tranche 3 aircraft. The Tranches are essentially the progressively more capable main build standards applied to three main batches of orders and manufacture. The Luftwaffe now plans to upgrade 110 Tranche 2/3 aircraft and procure new Tranche 4 aircraft to replace its early Tranche 1 jets under Project Quadriga. The radar contract appears to apply to both upgraded and new-build aircraft. 

The Spanish element of the order relates to a plan to add Captor-E to its 19 Tranche 3 aircraft. Like Germany, Spain is also evaluating buying additional Eurofighters under Project Halcon, an emerging requirement to replace its aging EF-18 Hornets.

Why Is The E-Scan So Important?

BAE Systems says the Typhoon E-Scan will “deliver the largest electronically scanned array for increased detection and tracking ranges, advanced air-to-surface capability and enhanced electronic protection measures. The large airframe also allows a wider field of regard than any other platform.” 

The antenna at the front-end of the E-Scan is mounted on a swashplate repositioner, that allows a much wider field-of-regard in terms of angular coverage (azimuth) compared with a fixed-plate antenna. It provides the ability to slew the antenna to “look” at far greater angles off the centerline of the aircraft. As such, a Typhoon could be traveling perpendicular to its target while still maintaining lock. This unique capability enables some highly unique tactics, which can be especially for non-stealthy fourth-generation fighter aircraft, that you can read all about in this past piece of ours. 

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