Dubai 09: Northrop frustrated by radar export delays

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A senior Northrop Grumman (stand E200) executive has expressed frustration over delays by the US government to clear a new radar for export to the international fighter and trainer market.

Northrop is flight testing the Scaleable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) aboard a US Lockheed Martin F-16 at Edwards AFB, California, but the system is not approved by US export control officials for the export market.

"I'm a bit mystified by the scrubbing it's getting [from US arms export regulators]," said Jim Pitts, the top executive for Northrop's electronic systems sector, at the Dubai show.

Northrop has not been told by US agencies why SABR's review process has continued longer than the process for one of its chief rivals - the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR), Pitts said.

SABR, an active electronically scanned array (AESA), is derived from Northrop's experience developing the APG-77 for the Lockheed F-22, APG-81 for the F-35 and APG-80 for the F-16 Block 60 developed for the United Arab Emirates. A Northrop innovation was to repackage those applications into an array that can fit inside early-model F-16s and even advanced jet trainers, Pitts said.

"It may be the view of the US government that [SABR] is a bit too innovative," Pitts said.

The delays have already proved costly. South Korea has selected an AESA made by Israel's Elta for the F/A-50 light attack and trainer jet, which is produced by Korea Aerospace Industries and Lockheed. Northrop had named the SABR as a candidate for the South Korean contract before the delays in the export clearance process.

Raytheon, meanwhile, has received approval by US arms control officials to market RACR to at least two countries. These are understood to be Greece and South Korea, which are both considering upgrades for F-16s.

But Northrop is still gaining some momentum for the SABR project. Pitts said that he will meet with representatives from Alenia Aermacchi to discuss installing the radar on the M-346 trainer. Export controls would not be an immediate issue in that case because the aircraft are intended for sale to the US Air Force, which may consider the M-346 to replace Northrop T-38s.

However, Pitts said the delays with the SABR approval process shows there is a disconnect between US foreign policy and security policy objectives. If Northrop is not allowed to compete on the foreign market, US allies will move on to other potential suppliers, he said.

"Somebody," Pitts said, "is going to get the business."