FARNBOROUGH: Eurofighter gets AESA radar deal, but Italy looks to F-35

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Eurofighter has received approval to add an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar to its Typhoon combat aircraft, but has been hit by an Italian decision to renege on a commitment to Tranche 3B production of the type, in favour of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The four-nation industrial consortium says full-scale development work has already started on the AESA enhancement by Euroradar partners Selex Galileo, EADS Defence Electronics and Indra.

"This is an important step, and will ensure that Typhoon continues to lead the way as the world's best new-generation multirole combat aircraft," says Eurofighter chief executive Enzo Casolini.

 
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The enhancement is intended to deliver an in-service capability for partner nations Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK from 2015, with the AESA modification to also be made available as a retrofit for earlier production aircraft, and also have "significant growth potential".

Dubbed E-Captor, the AESA sensor will retain much of the "back-end" from the Typhoon's current mechanically scanned array radar, but deliver increases in detection and tracking range, and improved capability when using air-to-surface weapons, Eurofighter says. The new array will be mounted on a repositioner to widen its field of view.

Separately, defence minister Ignazio La Russa announced at the show that Italy plans to axe its planned Tranche 3B purchase of a final 25 Eurofighters, in a move intended to save €2 billion ($2.5 billion). Its decision will reduced its air force's total fleet of the type to 96 aircraft.

The Italian defence ministry has also confirmed its intention to proceed with plans to acquire the F-35, although La Russa declines to comment on the size of Rome's planned purchase. "We are very cautious about the number of aircraft to be acquired", he says.

The ministry has previously identified a requirement for 131 of the aircraft, in both the F-35A conventional take-off and landing and F-35B short-take off vertical landing variants.

The Eurofighter partners delivered an initial Tranche 3B proposal in June, and had wanted to reach contract signature by late 2011. Germany has also expressed doubts over its ability to take its last production batch of aircraft, but Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, the UK Royal Air Force's chief of the air staff, describes Tranche 3B as still being of great importance to the service, due to its planned addition of capabilities including the MBDA Storm Shadow cruise missile.

The UK has already funded an independent technology demonstrator programme worth £20 million ($30 million) to flight test an AESA array with one of its Typhoons. Selex has previously said that the milestone should occur during 2013, but industry sources at the show suggest that it could be poised to happen imminently.

Additional reporting by Luca Peruzzi