The UK’s airborne stand-off radar (ASTOR) programme has entered 2006 on a high, following Raytheon’s successful completion of three key demonstrations of the battlefield surveillance aircraft’s capabilities.

SAR IMAGEConducted from Greenville, Texas on 27 October, the first demonstration marked the Sentinel R1’s first data-gathering flight using Raytheon’s dual-mode synthetic-aperture radar (SAR)/ground moving target indication (GMTI) sensor. The UK Ministry of Defence last week approved the release of the first SAR images to be collected by the heavily modified Bombardier Global Express business jet.

Company officials say the results from this initial demonstration bettered those delivered by both the US Air Force’s Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle at a similar stage in the integration of their SAR sensors.

“It took about 30 flights to get any sort of image from the U-2 and about a dozen for Global Hawk, but it was first off from ASTOR,” says Justin Monger, Raytheon Space & Airborne Systems’ programme manager for the ASTOR project. Monger says the system immediately provided crisp SAR imagery and the ability to measure the height or length of a target object. “The images show operational utility, even on a first flight,” he adds.

Raytheon conducted a subsequent demonstration of the ASTOR system’s ability to operate in collaboration with the USAF’s E-8C Joint STARS aircraft last November, with its ground station receiving SAR imagery and secure voice communications from the Boeing 707-based platform. In early December Raytheon then conducted an end-to-end system demonstration, during which the Sentinel R1 relayed SAR and GMTI images to the ground using wide- and narrow-band datalinks respectively and to airborne platforms via Link 16.

The UK will accept its first two ASTOR aircraft during the third quarter of 2006, following the completion of operational testing due to start around mid-year. The radar for the second Sentinel R1 will be integrated at Raytheon Systems’ Broughton plant in Wales later this month before the completed aircraft flies for the first time by late March.

The ASTOR system will be declared operational late this year with the availability of two aircraft, associated equipment and two combat-ready air crews with 5 Sqn at RAF Waddington.

All five of the UK’s aircraft will be delivered by early 2007, says Raytheon.


Source: Flight International