Options for the future delivery of the UK’s Airborne Warning and Control capability are being explored, with the focus now on replacing the E-3D Sentry fleet.

We understand that upgrades however are reportedly considered to be expensive. According to Janes here, maintenance is becoming increasingly costly and replacing them instead might be the most cost-effective option.

 

Guto Bebb, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, recently said:

“No decision has been made with regard to the future delivery of the UK’s Airborne Warning and Control capabilities, although a range of options are being explored.”

Some industry commentators are also arguing for a new aircraft type altogether. The large sums of money allocated to upgrading the E-3D fleet should be used to purchase a more advanced off-the-shelf aircraft, a defence analyst has argued. Justin Bronk, Research Fellow, Airpower and Technology, outlines options for replacing the E-3 fleet in his paper ‘The Future of Air C2 and AEW: E-3 Sentry, Threat Technologies and Future Replacement Options’:

“The RAF’s E-3Ds need a £2-billion CSP both to bring them to rough parity with current US and French standards by the mid-2020s and to stretch the fleet out to 2035 in the process. However, the E-3, even in modernised form, is no longer a cutting-edge ABM&S system in a world where proliferating long-range missile systems and emerging non-Western low-observable fighters can force it to stay hundreds of kilometres from contested airspace, placing a higher premium on BLOS communications capacity rather than onboard sensors.

Even when it is able to operate closer to the battlespace, the AN/APY-1/2 mechanically scanned radar array common to all E-3s has significant inherent limitations in terms of its ability to detect low-observable, very slow moving and hypersonic threats, unlike more modern AESA-equipped AWACS types already in service with the US Navy and various air forces around the world. An AESA-equipped ABM&S platform with improved communications node capabilities, based on a commercial-derivative airframe, seems a logical alternative option which could provide the RAF with a more capable and efficient alternative to extending the life of the E-3D over the next 20 years.

Such an approach would incur programmatic risk and acquisition and integration costs, but the MoD should examine and weigh these against the expensive work required to extend the E-3D with a view to ensuring the RAF has the best capability possible for the next two decades.”

The US designed E-3D Sentry AEW.Mk 1 is an airborne early warning (AEW) and command and control aircraft in British service, but what does that mean?

The Sentry monitors airspace to provide threat detection of adversary aircraft and situational awareness on friendly assets.

Information gathered by the Northrop Grumman APY-2 radar is processed by the mission crew and disseminated via a variety of data links and communication systems. Sentry also has the capability to detect ships, relaying information to maritime aircraft or allied vessels for further investigation. Its electronic support measures equipment enables the E-3D to gather emissions from other radar systems and emitters, enhancing the crew’s understanding of the environment in which it is operating.

66 COMMENTS

  1. The Sentry has done sterling work – truly an unsung hero of the endless series of military ventures and crisii of the last 30 years. However, as the article notes, it’s reached an inflection point where even upgrading it isn’t going to adequately bring it up to the standards we need today. Time for a replacement – this would be a great opportunity for a joint development among the allies. The AESA radar already exists, it just has to be put on a modern airframe. The 707 has reached its limits. The USAF is thinking a stretch 737 ala Poseidon or a large business jet platform depending on whoever wins the primary contract.

    Cheers!

  2. I understood the point of 5th generation networked fighters is that you don’t have the same level of need for theses large platforms. I thought that in a battle space full of low observability fifth generation fighters optimised for BVR engagements they will essentially be great big high value targets with no ability to hide.

    • Not having the same level of need isn’t the same as not needing them at all. Having your fighters all networked together is great, but in a large scale air operation (more along the lines of the Gulf War than recent punitive strikes in Syria and such) its still far more efficient for that information to be relayed to a command platform, collated and analysed by the crew on board, and have them coordinate the mission. It lets the pilots concentrate on the task at hand instead of needing to keep one eye open for incoming or evolving threats.

  3. Placing highly trained personnel in a plane, any plane, may not be the way forward. Flight time to area and return to base (any base) is a factor in maintaining peak performance among crew in routine situations; in very stressful circumstances operational effectiveness must be an issue. A drone based operation with redundancy might be a system whose time has come. A much larger set of operators and controllers housed almost anywhere, receiving and widely handing off data via secure satellites with relief rates impossible in a tube flying at 40,000 feet. I am certain something like this will come along. Why wait?

    • Right! You could use the Voyager aircraft(forget which Airbus # it is) as a sort of mother ship with full avionics, capabilities, but each carrying several drones that could cover areas in more detail and staying out of high threat areas.

    • Bandwidth and latency? I’m not saying those are issues, just throwing them out as suggestions of two things that might be. In particular on latency, how real-time does the view of the battlespace created need to be that is relayed to the force elements that need it? Might the delays introduced by getting the sensor data to remote operators and then those remote operators transmitting whatever conclusions they want to convey back into the battlespace be an issue? Again for clarity – this is me asking questions not me saying that the idea is flawed.

      If unmanned was viable, and I agree the benefits you (Barry) mention are extremely compelling, would it be necessary to go with something fancy such as mothership plus network of smaller drones, at least for the first generation of solution? Could a 737 be automated (turned into a drone) such that Wedgetail or similar becomes unmanned to deliver the benefits of not stressing and risking crew and potentially enriching the human analysis that you mention?

      • Thank you David and Julian. I have no dog in this fight; you could creep up on me in a tank frankly, but I recall from just after the Second World War how stunned we were to discover what British and Commonwealth scientists and engineers had come up with inside six years. This makes me wonder if we aren’t just going with the flow rather than trying something different. I don’t think Russia is the conventional threat here either. All the bluster Tsar has achieved is Swedish re-armament and concentrated minds in governments from The North Cape to the Black Sea like nothing else since 1989.

  4. I’m sure the US will come up with the best available option to replace E3. Let them develop and build it then buy it off the shelf. Simples!

      • Yep. It confounds me that the commentators here continue to ignore the very obvious off-the-shelf E-7 option.

        It’s a modern 737 variant with a modern AESA radar. It’s operational and all the development has been paid for. The RAAF has sunk serious cash into upgrades and will continue to do so well into the future which the RAF could draw directly from without investing anything. Being a modern system it’s highly software centred and so software upgradable which drastically lowers the cost of adding functionality. It combines AEW&C, ELINT and even maritime surface search with more to be added in the future. It has earned exceptional praise from all allied forces from it’s service over Iraq and has been specifically requested as the ‘preferred’ aircraft in its role in a number of cases. It works and it works bloody well.

        What is not to like? Do you folks really prefer to further break your over stretched budgets re-inventing the wheel? Another bespoke solution that suffers cost blowouts and eventually capability/number reductions?

        Also this:
        http://images.defence.gov.au/20171110raaf8200818_062.jpg

        • E7 is an option but it wasn’t an entirely happy program and even now I believe the radar is not performing as well as promised. Noise has been good more recently so may be they have got past the initial teething problems.

          It is worth keeping an eye on what the US plans to do.

      • I agree, the boeing E3 is the best replacement aircraft, plus it will have commonality withecboeing P8 already on order.

  5. £2bn CSP that doesn’t even make it fit for purpose.

    If ever there was a story that provides a clear example fo why the MOD is terrible at managing its budget this is it.

    Surely we can buy 8 replacement aircraft for £2bn – or has everything moved on and these can be replaced with 20 more F35’s (if they really are as good as everyone is saying) at the whole electronic jamming, situational awareness and communications may just be what we need and invest in MADL.

    Or how about another role for Taranis/Magma.

    • magma is basically a shitty toy built by some professors and students.
      SAAB have an off the shelf solution to this problem, I would expect us to go for it if we’re being financially sensible about things. This is the MOD however…

    • Who says the MOD planned this badly?
      Its obviouly time to upgrade, anyone can see that.

      Just because they get a price for one option is not bad managemnt, its good managemnt and provides the data to make good judgements.

      You will be saying how marvelous we are once we buy E7 from Australia soon.

      Taranis does not exist and will never be a thing. For the amount of time it gets mentioned here you would think it was an actual option.

      • Taranis could be in service within 3 years if we put our back into it. It has had several flights is built using proven technology and seems to me the only thing stopping its progress is commitment.

        It gets mentioned a lot by me, because it is a potential solution to a lot of big ticket items and has real utility, and it is something Britain could do on its own and sell to others.

        1. Bombers working alongside F35
        2. E3-D replacement (with or without F35)
        3. Carrier refuelling
        4. Stealth reconnaissance

        The Scandinavians concentrate on key bits of kit and do them well, given Eurofighter seems to be coming to an end of production and we are a leader in aerospace Taranis/Magma offer a possible solution to a number of problems that could add benefit to our country.

        £2bn to make 7 planes not fit for purpose is not a good deal, and I cant be convinced otherwise I am afraid

        • We definitely need to push ahead with Taranis so that our aerospace industry has at least one product of our own to export. There is no doubt in my mind we could do this IF the will is there.

        • No one is suggesting its a good deal. No-one is suggesting we do this. Its just a quote.

          Why does it have to turn into another slagging match of our MOD.

          If they didnt get an upgrade vs new price it would be shocking. This is how things get bought.

          To turn this into MOD incompetance is just as bad as saying the Clyde is betrayed.

          • Andy

            I agree and apologise, you are right of course. It is just a quote

            Problem is for many of us these things have a bad habit of becoming a reality all too often.

            My view is we need better fleet management and far less CSP which often turns out as sub optimal from a capability point of view and a drag on finances.

            This is a different argument and the one I should have presented in the first place – I just dont like CSP as used by the MOD.

  6. No point In developing something ourselves, it’s like MRA4 with no export potential, the US does not know what it wants to do and no way E3 will be any use in 2035.

    Buying 5 or 6 E7 wedgtail’s is the solution, even the USAF loves the platform and it’s readily available, gives us a common airframe with P8 and future RC135 replacement.

    • The E7 does not have a common Airframe with the P8a, the former uses a modified variant of the B737-700ER whilst the P8a uses the B737-800ERX as a starting point but is so heavily modified that it is arguably a unique sub variant. Even the fuselage skin of the P8a is thicker than a standard B737 variant to take account of the heavier stress it will be put under operating at low altitudes.

      The E7 is certainly a choice but we are in a world now where there are several viable alternatives so I would like to see some investigation of choices. I tend to agree that a smaller platform makes sense and a B737 as a platform would offer synergies.

    • Absolutely, E7 is the way to go. Don’t bother throwing good money away on Sentry.

      We should start low rare procurement of them soon.

  7. 1. Let’s stop blaming MoD procurement for everything. It’s the Capability and Planning Air Marshals in the RAF that determine procurement priorities. 2. UAV based solutions are not ready and will not be ready for many years. 3. Wedgetail is the obvious, no-brainier choice – let’s do it! 4. F-35 requires a C2 node to maximise the exploitation of its own electronic collect capabilities and relay that back to base via BLOS links – both Wedgetail and Voyager are obvious candidate platforms for this. 5. In future, as UAV options become available, these can be incrementally added to the mix both to enhance the radar aperture and reduce Wedgetail’s vulnerability.

  8. Clearly totally apples and oranges but I can’t resist observing, given that you (Andy) bought up P-8A, that the UK paid £2bn to get 9 P-8As and this article quotes “The RAF’s E-3Ds need a £2-billion CSP both to bring them to rough parity with current US and French standards”. No conclusion being drawn here, there is none, just a rather nice coincidental symmetry in the numbers.

    The most recent actual pricing I could find for Wedgetail is the South Korea order for four at $1.71bn in 2012 (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-arms-korea-boeing/south-korea-picks-boeing-for-surveillance-planes-idUSSEO35315920061108). That would be about £320m a plane at current exchange rates so adding inflation in today’s money that would probably put a Wedgetail in the £350m – £400m range. With a bit of negotiation, and of course replacing rather than upgrading our E-3Ds leaves the existing E-3Ds available for resale which is extra money to throw in the pot, we could probably get 6 Wedgetail for the cost of the upgrade and possibly even cash left over if negotiations went well and/or we could get a decent price from selling the existing E-3D.

    • I highly doubt that we could resale the E-3D on except for spares, they are significantly behind the curve when compared to US, French, Saudi and NATO examples. Any buyer would have to spend billions bringing them up to spec, why bother when there are affordable brand new AEW&C types out there not based on a first generation jet airliner. They were delivered into service as a unique sub variant and have not received Block 30/35 let alone Block 40/45, the Northrop Grumman servicing agreement held them in a unique standard.

      CSP to bring them up to something like Block 40/45 would not only involve major rewiring but also replacement of all the computers and integration with UK unique black boxes. That is probably where all the cost is coming from, in effect it would be an entire rebuild.

      Considering the comparative youth of the airframes I can see the USAF wanting to put them into AMARG for spares reclamation for their own and international fleets.

  9. How do the e-3d compare with wedgetail?

    I read further up that the wedgetail was selected for certain roles, which would indicate that it has some advantages, but that doesn’t mean that it is overall better.

    I ask because the wedgetail appears to have a significantly smaller radar, whilst i realise radar tech has advanced, the basics of radio waves haven’t changed and larger is generally better for picking up waves at distance.

    So is it a straight upgrade or just brings some advantages at expense of others?

    • Steve, don’t know exact comparison data. But at least it’s available, modern, software upgradable, reliable and maintainable.

      • None of these mean for sure that it is better than our current in service fleet. More modern does not always mean more capable, although i accept it generally does.

    • I agree TH

      And people cant say their kit is rubbish as they have all the main pieces.

      8×8 Strike Brigades
      Nuclear fleet (full autonomy)
      Carrier
      Escorts
      LeClerc tanks
      Mistrals
      Special Forces
      And rafael
      250k personnel

      Can’t really argue the have quality, breadth and depth where they believe they need it and joined up industry and government that is successful at exporting.

      This can be compared with our own confused, elongated and disfunctional system where even though we have great intellectual property and engineering skills we are unable to bring to market cost effectively. Maybe a partnership with the Japanese would be good in bringing kit to market and we can trust them to stand by their commitments on volumes etc.

      It’s a comparison (alongside the Israelis and the USMC) that we should make to ensure we are getting value and in my view we currently are not.

    • Liam, I’ve already posted before one option offered by SAAB and Airbus based on two Erieye aerials dorsally mounted on Voyagers. Rolls Royce looked at additional power generation requirements. The ‘spare’ Voyager frames could have been used and the aircraft could have retained its AAR capability intact. Certain RAF seniors were interested but finally we were told that they would look to upgrade E-3D instead (this at the same time as Capability people in the RAF were already telling me that updating AWACS was not cost-effective). I got the feeling though, that the RAF were not convinced by the Erieye technology. We later offered a state of the art Israeli (Elta) AESA three array (triangular shaped static array, each face covering 120 degrees) radar on the back of voyager as well. Again, no uptake from RAF. I’m concerned they’ll equally dismiss Wedgetail and prevaricate ad infinitum (as the generals did over FRES only to come back years later to the beginning and order Boxer). That would be the worst of all worlds. But right now, Wedgetail is the right choice if they move now and they move quickly.

      • SR – great point and really good explanation.

        This is right up my street – a great asset that can do several things at once. Need fuel whilst its loitering in the battle space tick.. need battle space information whilst its loitering as a petrol station tick. Need to take a load of troops or VIP’s somewhere tick.

        And we have them… better to have something great that we use all the time than something absolutely perfect but is niche.

        Given where we are with UAV’s and F35’s I think this is the solution to go for, I have said before but given that a planes fuselage is cylindrical why cant we build 4 plates into the body of the plane to provide 360 degree coverage. This is clearly not an area I have any knowledge of but I do think we should maximise the use of our voyager fleet and get all 14 fully up to spec (including ARBS) instead of adding another specialist asset.

        We can then spend the rest of the money on something else in the knowledge that we have leveraged our Voyager buy to the max, have a great multifunctional asset and have standardised the fleet, which must surely reduce cost. What is not to like about this?

          • Pacman, you’re right. And the Aussies are yet again ahead of the game on this. Not only did they order their KC-30s with ARBS, but they’ve got a funded programme to eventually turn it into a C2 platform as well. But while very attractive to do so, I think one must resist the temptation of trying to make a Swiss Army knife out of a single platform. I think the C2 route for Voyager is a no brainier. But the cost and risks must be balanced against buying something off the shelf where all the complex integration and OT&E work has already been done and paid for. That’s why personally I would opt for Wedgetail (and that’s an ex Airbus person saying that!). We even looked at re-engineering a refuelling pod to put an ISAR ground surveillance radar into one as a potential future replacement for Sentinel. But there are limits to what you can do, particularly when there isn’t much enthusiasm from the customer. And the irony is that the PFI nature of Voyager lends itself to these quick technology insertion ideas. We started funding the VIP conversion using the PFI facility available to us before MoD could get the funding line in the budget. They wanted it done yesterday but took ages to get the funding approved. So we launched it on the basis of the delivery date that had to be met, not according to the funding line available.

  10. The main issue with using the “spare voayagers” is that there are none and we don’t own them. I can imagine the air tanker consortium charging a fortune for this and then they can’t rent the spares out to Thompson’s any more.

    Wegetail is a very viable option we should just jump onboard, our beudgets are too small now to develop bespoke aircraft and there has never been much benefit in building bespoke platforms anyway, little export potential, little technology uplift and poor interoperability with allies.

    • Martin, you are right on Wedgetail, wrong on Voyager. There are four spare aircraft. The fifth leased to Thomson can be brought back into service fairly rapidly. Ownership is not an issue. The banks will let you do what you want with them so long as HMG stands behind the deal. Airtanker is not a charity, but I challenge anyone in the private or public sector to deliver the Voyager operation at a cheaper overall cost to the British taxpayer. The only element up for debate is that the Treasury can borrow the money more cheaply than the private sector – true – but that was never up for debate because it was the government who said PFI or nothing – there was no funding line in the budget to procure the assets any other way. But the aircraft have all been paid for already. The financial risk has been retired. What remains for the next 16 years of the contract is the sustainment and operating cost and as I said, I challenge anyone to provide the level of service and availability the fleet enjoys for less…

  11. It is strange that a blog with a focus on defence, keeps dropping back to a debate on UK industry and protecting UK jobs. Spending extra to top up an manufacturing industry that can not support itself, goes against the needs of defense. You can’t have it both way, when you have x to spend, you either spend it on less home grown items and top up the industry or you spend it on massively cheaper foreign items by joining much bigger orders (US, Japan, Europe if they can agree on anything, even China) and gain economy of scale. If the focus is on defence there is only one realistic option.

    Our ability to keep costs down, by placing large orders is long gone and even when we do buy domestic we have these stupid split buys, that mean we don’t get the economy of scale.

    It is easy to compare us against France, but you have to consider that they have double the land mass, thus giving better space and resources for manufacturing and home grown items and their economy is a time bomb, that heavily propped up by farming subsidiaries gained at the expense of eastern Europe, which won’t last as the eastern countries get a stronger voice in Europe. The french version of the SDSR2010 will come and will hit them hard.

    Considering the size of our domestic debt and the size of our country land wise and population wise, i think we have a pretty decent armed forces.

    • Steve

      You have fallen into a common trap, unfortunately war is attritional by nature and the winners are often those with most resources or the one that comes up with a game changer first (what would have happened if the Nazi’s had come up with the nuclear weapon first?)

      The UK has a proud heritage of punching above its weight primarily through innovation and our industry and whilst times have changed, we still need our industry to allow us to maintain knowledge and innovation and be able to ramp up if required.

      I am a big advocate of joining large orders and have stated on this forum the UK should be purchasing 200+ apaches if as stated, they are costing us £10m each – that is a price that is just unbelievable. Even at £20m we should be buying them as they are a massive force multiplier and we dont seem to want to deploy tanks anymore.

      Where I do support UK industry is in specialising. I think we should pursue Taranis/Magma on our own and make sure it works with an F35 seemlessly, that is an exportable product – just like the Norwegian JSM.

      I also think we need a shipbuilding indiustry as a maritime nation and am prepared to subsidise this. I also think we should have a military land vehicle capability for similar reasons.

      So there is a balance and its whether we jump forward and take a risk on our own technology (which I would) or take off the shelf products and think its a mix of both that is required.

      • Agree with pacman, no one is saying we should build every last thing for ourselves, but we don’t want to be buying every single last thing off foreign countries either, that’s what third world countries do. Our British scientists inventors and engineers are some of the very finest in the World, other countries would give their left ear for them, we have to have at least some British industries so we can utilize our undoubted genius and innovation in at least some fields.

        Like pacman says as an island we should invest in shipbuilding and we should also push ahead with Taranis. This will give us exports in at least some fields and will also keep our people in highly skilled, well paid jobs.

        Our steel production is also tiny compared with France, Germany, Italy, Spain, it is even smaller than tiny Belgium’s. Something is seriously wrong here and needs to be put right, whatever policies that are in place that are allowing them to do this, put them in place in our country (government investment, reduced energy costs, reduced property tax, etc.) so that our tiny steel production can grow. We use over twice as much steel as we produce and how much we use is rising. We should re-open the Redcar steelworks, it could be done if the will was there, or build a brand new one on the site to increase our tiny production. We should also perhaps look to open new electric arc furnaces, which are a cheaper way to make steel, to boost production.

        Another field we can have an industry is train making, we will always need trains so this would be sustainable.

        We don’t have to make every single thing for ourselves, but we have to make some things for ourselves. It is absolutely humiliating for Britain in front of the eyes of the World when France, Germany and Italy make so much for themselves and we go to foreign companies for practically everything. If they can manage it, so can we.

        Also, it has absolutely nothing to do with “land mass”, we have more than enough space for us to make more of our own things, that is not an excuse. The government seems to want us to make practically nothing compared with France, Germany and Italy, they have been waging war against British heavy industry for decades and they don’t seem to want to stop until we have zero and we have to go to foreign companies for everything, like a third world country. That is absolutely humiliating for a great country like Britain with a proud history of engineering. This is not what us British people want.

        Us British people want the government to invest in at least some of our industries and support them. This would be a very popular move and would provide well paid, highly skilled jobs for people.

  12. I think Saab system in Japanese P1 platform is best. P1 with RR engines, I believe, is a better airframe for AWACS, ELINT and ASW than B737NG airframe. P1 is a more versatile and newer airframe. Choice will also allow for UK industry re-entry into airframe assembly and modification business. Also create less dependency on USA primes.

  13. History teaches us that defence is only as good as the strength of your economy and industrial capability. You neglect any one of these and you put your defence capability at risk. It’s a balance. Certain industrial capabilities have to be retained to retain defence capability and sovereignty, while things such as RFAs can be manufactured abroad, if that is the most cost effective solution, without endangering the country’s vital defence base.

    • I’m not a fan of blank cheques for industry, I think type 31 is going the right way but the UK defence industry does have a habit of being self serving.

      If you take the case of the MRA4, it should never have been based on the Nimrod airframe. We had a very successful regional jet in production that was crying out to be upgraded, if the UK had been sensible it should have stretched, re-winged and re-engined (4 down to 2) the BAe 146. But BAe themselves could not see the value in the commercial sector for the aircraft. History shows the positive spin off for UK aviation industry would have been huge. Today Airbus and Boeing have been flooded with single isle orders. RR have no product that fits the twin isle market. Their is no doubt that with a bit of strategic spending the UK could have captured much more of the commercial market resulting in more money back to treasury = more defence spending.

      We would not be buying P8’s and possibly exporting a home grown MRA.

      A new sentry aircraft, perhaps based in the A350 (UK wings, RR engines), new so will be around for sometime to come.

      • Interesting point Expat … The 146 certainly had tremendous untapped potential., A rear ramp military variant went unbuilt (huge mistake) and this could well have served the basis for an MPA.

        However, again Keep it simple stupid and order the wedge tail….

  14. The E3D’s radar is of a particularly old design. The AN/APY-2 is a relatively low frequency band radar that uses a Passive Electronically Scanned Array. This means it is not as frequency agile as say a Active Electronically Scanned Array is. This is because the array modules are not true transmitter modules but phase changers i.e. they delay the transmission timing to alter the phase and thus the direction of the beam, it also has a relatively slow sweep rate. The radar can still be classed as an analogue radar, but has been updated with more modern digital processing. However, it is one of the most powerful airborne radars and can burn through a lot of jamming techniques.
    There are a number of off the shelf options on the market at the moment ranging from the E767 to Saab’s Erieye. One of the cheaper option could be as Japan did, which was to fit the Sentry’s mission systems to a modified Boeing 767. However, this reuses the AN/APY-2 radar which is less effective against small stealthy targets. The next most promising candidate is the Wedgetail fitted to a modified Boeing 737. This uses a fully digital AESA radar with good frequency agility. However, like Saab’s Erieye has a forward and aft 60 dead zone dead zone which with software enhancement can reduce to down to 45 degrees. This will require the aircraft to fly abreast of the “expected” threat area thus allowing it to be sneaked up on from the flanks. This is probably one of the reasons why the RAF are not in favour of these systems.
    I have yet to see any serious developments from Airbus, Thales or Leonardo to compete in this sector. However, the development Searchwater 2000 MR as used for Crowsnest has the capability to detect very stealthy targets and has proven to be a strong competitor to the Sentinel R! in ground mapping and moving target tracking. However, it hasn’t got the range compared to the AN/APY-2 or the MESA radar used on the Wedgetail.
    There are two other options I would consider is using a drone aircraft or the Airlander Hybrid Air Vehicle. The problem with the drone is that to get the necessary range you need to generate a lot of power which requires a large airframe. Further if the aircraft is being controlled via satellite it is susceptible to disruption from loss of connectivity. The Airlander option could be a cheap option as the aircraft can remain on station for days, but it is limited to climatic conditions and is very slow (top speed <100kts).

  15. “the Wedgetail fitted to a modified Boeing 737. This uses a fully digital AESA radar with good frequency agility. However, like Saab’s Erieye has a forward and aft 60 dead zone dead zone which with software enhancement can reduce to down to 45 degrees. This will require the aircraft to fly abreast of the “expected” threat area thus allowing it to be sneaked up on from the flanks. This is probably one of the reasons why the RAF are not in favour of these systems.”

    False…

    “The 10.8 m long by 3.4 m high antenna assembly incorporates 7.3 m long by 2.7 m high Side-Emitting Electronic Manifold array, with the top hat supporting array providing 120° coverage on port and starboard side, while the top hat array itself provides 60° fore and aft, thus providing a complete 360° coverage.”

    • Hmm, I stand corrected. Does the MESA radar only use the S band or can it transmit at a higher frequency?

  16. Interesting to see here (http://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2015/06/22/when-the-shit-got-real-for-australias-wedgetail/) that for the Australian deal “In the end, six were acquired. The first two Wedgetails were assembled and tested in the USA with the final four assembled by Boeing in Australia”.

    With quite a few of you experts saying Wedgetail is the way to go on both technical (it’s good) and practical (don’t reinvent the wheel) grounds, the fact that the Australians negotiated a deal with 4 built on home soil is interesting. Is that practical were the UK to go for Wedgetail? If yes then it would be a nice added sweetener.

    On the reinventing the wheel thing, I am all for the UK maintaining a flourishing technology base and being bold enough to design and build world-class kit in the UK but we can’t do everything and I don’t personally think that E-3D replacement is appropriate for homegrown, it’s too niche a requirement.

    Where I would really like to see the UK be braver is in things like the small to medium sized drone market. This country has genuinely world-class expertise in structural engineering, aerodynamics, materials science, engines, robust/compact/powerful electronics and control systems and software. That list pretty much ticks off all the core technologies needed for drones. I’d much rather see us building next generation drones (better payload/speed/endurance characteristics) in the Schiebel S-100 Camcopter space (“space” as in approximate size and the drone’s launch/recovery characteristics) and also in the ScanEagle space. Those would be extremely valuable assets in enhancing the capabilities of many of the RN’s ships and also have great export potential.

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