The UK Ministry of Defence is on track to operationally deploy its Airborne Standoff Radar system late this year, with one Sentinel R1 aircraft and a tactical ground station now participating in a major capability exercise in the USA.

The Royal Air Force will accept its fifth and last Sentinel R1 airframe in the fourth quarter of this year, with the heavily modified Bombardier Global Express business jet to be on static display at the Farnborough air show.

"We are undergoing mission 'wake-up', and are looking to introduce additional capabilities prior to delivery in the fourth quarter," says Raytheon ASTOR programme manager Scott Tilden.

In anticipation of the system's operational debut, the MoD is funding a number of upgrades to the Sentinel airframe. These include unspecified defensive aids system enhancements and additional security for the aircraft's internal radio frequency communications equipment, says Wg Cdr Jerry Cowell, requirements manager for the UK Defence Equipment and Support organisation's ASTOR integrated project team.

"There is still an aspiration to deploy at the end of this year, and we are on track to do that," says Cowell. So-called capability assurance missions were completed in late April, following two successful flights in the USA and four operationally representative mission scenarios flown from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, he says.

The RAF has two limited combat ready aircrews trained on the Sentinel, but expects to have four or five available by year-end to support a deployment potentially in support of coalition operations in Afghanistan.

One aircraft and a ground station are participating in the month-long exercise Empire Challenge at the US Navy's China Lake test range in California, where the ASTOR system is participating alongside other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.

Source: Flight International