The US Navy plans to select a contractor by mid-March for flight demonstrations of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) capability on a Grumman F-14 Tomcat in a move primarily directed towards providing a future upgrade of the Raytheon Shared Reconnaissance Pod (SHARP) planned for the Boeing F/A-18E/F fighter.

Congress has given the USN$9 million from the fiscal year 2001 budget to conduct the F-14 demonstration and undertake an engineering analysis of integrating an SAR sensor into the electro-optical/infrared SHARP pod. Using the F-14 will mitigate risk and prove the capability ahead of funding being allocated to theF/A-18E/F programme.

Contrary to an earlier Flight International report, the USN has not yet a selected a SAR contractor. Prospective bidders are due to submit their proposals by early February with a contract to be awarded the following month. Israel's Elta is one of around six competing SAR suppliers and last year conducted a limited demonstration of the EL/M-2060P system on the F-14. "We've not yet received any proposals, let alone selected a winner," says the USN

Flight demonstrations will be conducted at the USN's Patuxent River and Oceana air stations and will include using the F-14's Fast Tactical Imaging system to transmit real time SAR data. The USN has given bidders the option to propose their own choice of pod, but would prefer that it fit the aircraft's existing LANTIRN hardpoint under the starboard engine inlet.

A larger pod could be accommodated on the aircraft's centreline, which is also the mounting for the 5.2m (17ft) long Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS). While TARPS has been upgraded with a digital image downlink, the USN says the Kosovo conflict showed the need for an all-weather system capable of providing target identification. It also wants to pursue target imaging for GPS-satellite navigation and non-GPS-guided munitions.

The USN may deploy a SAR system operationally on the F-14 as an interim and supplement to its SHARP equipped F-18E/Fs The navy has extended its retention of 220 Tomcats by another two to three years and will now keep the F-14A in service until 2006, the F-14D until 2008 and the F-14B until the following year.

Source: Flight International