The Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers have radars that provide 360-degree visibility out to 400km – in other words, the distance from Portsmouth to Kendal, in the Lake District.
The S180M radar, also known as the long range radar is the large black rectangle that rotates on top of the ship’s forward island. This will give the crew the 360-degree vision out to 400km. This is the visible face of one of the world’s most sophisticated air defence systems. It can handle up to 1,000 tracks simultaneously and its operators can guide the ship’s own F35B fighters on to any hostile or unidentified aircraft.
It has the capability to detect stealth targets, such as incoming missiles, at 65km, even when they are approaching against a backdrop of ground clutter. The radar can also be used to provide air traffic control services for civilian aircraft, a potentially vital role if the ships are stationed offshore from a country whose airport infrastructure has been severely damaged by a natural disaster or due to conflict.
As well as its primary air defence function, the S1850M can also act in a surface surveillance role out to the radar horizon.
One of the most complex aspects of creating a modern warship is integrating all the vessel’s systems, particularly those used for combat. An indication of this comes in the operation to install the carrier’s ARTISAN 3D radar. Preparations to install the radar on to the carriers took two-and-a-half years. Part of this time was spent in creating a life-size mock-up of the carrier’s aft island at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight.