UK's ASTOR system achieves delayed in-service date

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The UK Ministry of Defence's Airborne Standoff Radar (ASTOR) system has made its operational debut over Afghanistan, ending a two-year delay in getting the ground surveillance asset into frontline use.

Military sources say the Royal Air Force's 5(AC) Sqn met an objective to have two Raytheon Systems-supplied Sentinel R1 aircraft and two ground stations operational during November, the benchmark required for the system to achieve its in-service date.

A UK counterpart to the US Air Force's Boeing 707-based Northrop Grumman E-8C JSTARS airborne ground surveillance system, ASTOR will deliver imagery from its dual-mode synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication sensor in support of ground operations.

The Sentinel R1s - modified Bombardier Global Express business jets - plus related ground-based communications and imagery exploitation equipment are now at undisclosed sites in the Middle East region, the sources say. The MoD formally announced the in-service date milestone on 1 December.

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"Training of squadron personnel and development of the system has progressed exceedingly well over the last 18 months," says Wg Cdr Harry Kemsley, officer commanding 5 Sqn. "The squadron is now in a position to make a positive contribution to current operations in the very near future."

Raytheon Systems, meanwhile, expects to hand over the UK's fifth and last Sentinel R1 airframe before year-end at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. The type had originally been scheduled to meet an in-service target of November 2006, but the £860 million ($1.3 billion) programme suffered development delays with its radar, including the loss of one sensor during a ground mishap.

"As part of the ongoing operational development process ASTOR will undertake an overseas deployment prior to achieving full operating capability about two years from now," says the MoD.