The US Department of Defense has warned the UK that it will not be allowed to purchase a new battlefield surveillance radar unless it participates in the development stage of the next generation programme.

The UK Ministry of Defence is in the final stages of selecting a contractor for its $1.3 billion Standoff Radar (ASTOR), having controversially allowed Northrop Grumman back into the bidding. The company's original Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) bid was rejected and the new offer was only accepted after high level political discussions.

The new radar is being developed as part of a Northrop Grumman product improvement which will culminate with the Radar Technology Insertion Programme (RTIP). The USA wants the UK to share the development costs for RTIP, and has told the MoD that there will be no room for an "off the shelf" purchase of the system for ASTOR without participation in the RTIP programme, says programme manager Frank Dogaer.

The pace of developing a more powerful radar for the JSTARS will depend on whether the MoD selects the US defence contractor and its local partner British Aerospace for ASTOR. Joint development could bring forward the delivery date of the finished product by as much as three years. Northrop Grumman officials believe they can meet the 2003 ASTOR in-service date .

Three teams are now competing for the UK programme. Lockheed Martin is offering the Gulfstream V business jet and the Racal ASTOR radar aircraft platform, Raytheon Systems is pushing the Bombardier Global Express alongside a modified ASARS-2 radar, while Northrop Grumman is also proposing the Gulfstream V.

Should Northrop Grumman be selected, ASTOR's airborne surveillance capability would be provided by a smaller version of the advanced radar being developed for the US Air Force's JSTARS.

RTIP, a planned replacement of the Northrop Grumman APY-3 radar, will offer increased moving target indication (MTI) resolution and scan rate, better synthetic aperture radar (SAR) resolution, and simultaneous operation of MTI and SAR.

The USAF issued the RTIP request for proposals in April. A contract for RTIP engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) with a baseline value of between $400-500 million is anticipated in October. RTIP production would bring the total USAF contract value to $1.3 billion.

Source: Flight International