Northrop Grumman says the US Air Force will have to select its Wide Area Surveillance aircraft by the end of this year to keep the initial phase of the recently restructured Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Programme (MP-RTIP) on schedule.

Under a $303 million contract awarded at the end of last year, Northrop Grumman and the USAF are due to conduct an MP-RTIP systems requirement review next month. This will be followed by an interim design review scheduled for December next year and a full design review in the last quarter of 2003, at which point engineering and manufacturing development is due to start.

"The Wide Area Surveillance platform puts triggers [milestones] on MP-RTIP," says Chris Fernandez, Northrop Grumman MP-RTIP programme manager. "The schedule laid out today assumes a 707 platform as we need to have something to work to. If not, we have to reprogramme the plan to fold in a new platform."


The original RTIP was conceived as an upgrade of the Boeing 707-based E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS). The USAF is analysing alternatives to identify an aircraft that will serve as a platform for MP-RTIP as well as for in-flight refuelling, airborne early warning (AEW) and electronic intelligence gathering.

Northrop Grumman and Raytheon are working on a 7.3m (24ft) long electronically scanned antenna for a 707 or comparable size airframe. Combining ground surveillance and AEW - using either two sensors or a modular system - on one platform is also "within the realm of possibility", says Fernandez, but would depend on cost and performance.

The USAF is planning to buy five MP-RTIP wide-area platforms to supplement the 16 JSTARS in service or on order. A full rate production decision is scheduled for the third quarter of 2007. In parallel development is a 5.5m long NATO Advanced Technology Radar (NATAR),which is one of two systems competing for the Alliance Ground Surveillance programme.

If selected, NATAR could also be ready for production by 2007, with Northrop Grumman and Raytheon competing for the prime contractor role. "If Raytheon acquires the NATAR lead, it would be jointly developed with Northrop Grumman and vice versa," says Fernandez. Raytheon is leading the work to integrate a smaller antenna, which has been reduced to 1.5-1.8m, in the Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle.

Northrop Grumman has delivered the first qualification focal plane assembly (FPA) for the US Air Force's Space-Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS) High surveillance satellite payload. The FPA is the SBIRS High sensor for detecting and tracking ballistic missile launches and will be integrated into the system. Northrop Grumman is also participating in the SBIRS Low system.

Source: Flight International