Douglas Barrie/LONDON

THE RUSSIAN AIR FORCE, is believed to be testing a large side-looking airborne radar (SLAR), at its Ahktubinsk operational research centre in southern Russia.

A heavily modified Antonov An-72 Coaler is being flown from the centre, with at least the rear-fuselage section reconfigured with the addition of large side panels, thought to house the SLAR antennae. The existence of the aircraft has never been acknowledged.

The modified aircraft has been at Ahktubinsk since at least 1995, although its exact purpose has yet to be determined.

The role intended for the SLAR-equipped An-72 is unknown. It is also unknown whether the An-72 airframe is the operational platform, or a testbed airframe.

One possible role may be that of stand-off battlefield surveillance or reconnaissance. The SLAR would be used in a similar fashion to the phased-array radar on the US Air Force's Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.

There are suggestions that the high-altitude, long-endurance Myasischev M-17/55 Mystic was intended, like the Lockheed U-2, to be equipped with a SLAR for battlefield surveillance. The air force, however, has been forced to cancel the Mystic programme because of a lack of funds.

Source: Flight International