May 30, 2005

First Israeli-designed AESA radar introduced for fighter makeovers

Off the shelf

By Barbara Opall-Rome
May 09, 2005

Israel’s Elta Systems Ltd. is planning a maiden flight test of its new EL/M 2052 active phased-array fire control radar, which is aimed at the international fighter aircraft upgrade market.

The multimode radar, unveiled publicly at the Aero India exhibition in Bangalore earlier this year, synthesizes synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and phased-array radar capabilities developed for larger reconnaissance platforms or pods into a single system small enough to be packed in the nose of fighter jets.

Based on solid-state active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technology, the EL/M 2052 is designed to operate in air-to-air, precision ground strike and air-to-sea modes at the same time, with each mode optimized to find and track multiple targets with exceedingly high resolution. According to specifications released by the company, the radar will weigh 130 to 180 kilograms (286 to 396 pounds) and operate on four to 10 kilovolt amperes of power, depending on antenna size.

In the air-to-air role, the radar is designed to detect, track and target multiple aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles or low-flying targets such as helicopters. At sea, the radar is designed to search, classify and track targets, while also performing maritime patrol and surveillance functions. And, in the air-to-ground role, the radar exploits SAR technology to sort through clutter and other terrain-obscuring elements to identify and track ground objects on the move, according to company marketing data.

“This radar introduces new dimensions to air superiority and advanced strike missions. It’s a real breakthrough because of all the different types of targets and missions that can be handled at the same time,” Elta President Israel Livnat told C4ISR Journal.

In an early March interview, Livnat said Elta had invested a significant amount of independent research and development funds on technologies incorporated in the new radar. The company is now testing the system on the ground and subsequently will test it on a Boeing 737.

“We’ve done a lot of ground tests and field checks, and will soon begin flying the radar in our 737 test bed. At the same time, we’re examining a derivative of this X-band technology for different types of ground applications,” Livnat said.


As for potential customers of the new radar, industry officials acknowledged that U.S. government restrictions prevent Elta or its parent company, Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd., from integrating the new radar in U.S. F-16 and F-15 fighters flown by the Israel Air Force. Similarly, the planned U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is not a candidate for the EL/M 2052, since the Pentagon is insisting that only a home-grown U.S. radar will be offered with the new aircraft.

Livnat said Elta’s principal focus for the EL/M 2052 is the international fighter upgrade market. He noted that preliminary market forecasts indicate that hundreds of fighter platforms could be made available for significant upgrades over the next 10 years.

However, Livnat emphasized that Elta is just now beginning to market the new radar, and therefore has no specific customer nation or fighter aircraft within its grasp.

“We don’t want to rule out any platform, since we have experience in adapting our radars to many different platforms. It all depends on the countries that may choose to upgrade existing fleets for the air superiority and advanced strike role instead of purchasing new aircraft,” he said.

When asked about the new Elta radar, a senior executive from Lockheed Martin, prime contractor for the F-16 as well as the planned F-35, insisted that Elta would not be able to offer the EL/M 2052 on any American aircraft without the express approval of U.S. airframe manufacturers and the U.S. government.

Interviewed during a visit to Israel on March 28, the Lockheed Martin executive said: “The Israelis can’t add a radar to their own F-16s or any F-16s on the market, for that matter, without permission from Lockheed Martin and the U.S. government. Without approval to provide the software interface, those aircraft cannot be supported … and I seriously doubt that there will be a change in U.S. policy regarding software source codes anytime in the foreseeable future.” •

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