Eurofighter’s push to bolster its export sales prospects with an upgrade featuring an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar has taken a step forward, after diversion from final assembly of a Tranche 3A aircraft, which will be fitted with the new system.

Instrumented production aircraft IPA8 was pulled off the final assembly line at Airbus's Manching site near Munich, Germany on 26 June. The two-seater, which will ultimately be delivered to the German air force, is like other Tranche 3As – in that it has been built with AESA-capable electrical power and liquid cooling systems. The electronically-scanned system requires more power – and generates more heat – than its mechanically-scanned predecessor, the Euroradar Captor-M.

By contrast, single-seat validation aircraft IPA5 is a UK Royal Air Force Tranche 1 version which needs more extensive upgrade work to accommodate the new radar. IPA5 is being modified at BAE Systems's site at Warton in Lancashire. The aircraft, expected to fly with its AESA radar in the third quarter of this year, will be on display at the Farnborough air show.

According to Eurofighter’s head of future capabilities Laurie Hilditch, the two projects complement each other. With IPA8, Eurofighter will demonstrate its ability to modify any of its newest models, which were designed to accommodate the more capable radar. IPA5 will validate the company’s scheme for modification of its earliest models.

Mechanically-scanned systems are well known and generally reliable, but AESA systems are increasingly a customer expectation. By ditching a swinging sensor head for an array of fixed-position transmit/receive modules, AESA offers greater redundancy, continuous rather than sweeping coverage and can give improved detection rates.

The IPA5 project opens the door for Eurofighter partner nation air forces to upgrade their fleets to the latest standard, or sell off some of their older aircraft.