SINGAPORE 2010: Northrop gains export licence in radar race with Raytheon

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Northrop Grumman has intensified the competition with Raytheon to retrofit advanced new radars on thousands of fourth-generation fighters.

Northrop announced on 3 February the receipt of clearance from the US Department of State to brief multiple potential export customers on the scaleable agile beam radar (SABR), an active electronically scanned array (AESA).

The export clearance, officially called the DSP-5 licence, levels the playing field with Northrop's rival, the Raytheon advanced combat radar (RACR), which received a similar clearance several months ago.

The approval also reverses the State Department's previous stance on SABR, which had created delays that notably frustrated Northrop executives.

David Silvia, Northrop's manager for SABR business development, declined to identify what changes Northrop made to its licence application to obtain State's approval. Silvia said instead that more details will be revealed in four to six months after Northrop has the opportunity to brief interested customers.

Northrop's licence includes the authority to offer the complete SABR system, which includes the front-end antenna and back-end processor, Silvia says.

Northrop is now in a position to challenge Raytheon's RACR product, which is adapted from the APG-79 AESA installed aboard the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Both companies are eyeing the market to convert up to 2,000 Lockheed Martin F-16s on the global market to AESA radars, as well as retrofits for F/A-18s. Northrop also described the emerging market for unmanned air systems as another potential target for the SABR system.

For its part, Raytheon plans to demonstrate the RACR system aboard a US Air Force F-16 in mid-2010. That schedule comes nearly a year after Northrop launched a flight demonstration for SABR on the F-16. But Raytheon says it still has the advantage.

"[Northrop] chose to create a prototype, and they tested that recently," a Raytheon executive says. "We will be flying production hardware."

In response, Northrop says that it has passed the prototype stage on SABR. Northrop also says it has demonstrated SABR's full capability, allowing the company to tailor the technology to the specific requirements of its potential customers.