10 Jan 06. Raytheon Systems Limited (RSL), gave an upbeat brief on the ASTOR Airborne radar System. Jack Cronin, Managing Director of RSL said that he intended to make and his wish to make RSL the most admired aerospace company in the U.K. He gave examples of Paveway 4, JETTS, GPS and IFF and the company’s Glenrothes plant that is making key components for U.S. missile systems. Given this speciality and the fact that the company was a net exporter he was not fazed at all by the new Defence Industrial Strategy and indeed welcomed it.
He then went on to explain as to the progress to bring its ASTOR fleet into service on time and on schedule, “We exceeded our expectations for ASTOR in 2005 and finished the year on a high with all segments deep into their test schedules. 2006 will see the culmination of all this hard work and these images show just what a superb system it will be.”
The flight test programme for the U.K. Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) programme is progressing well in the U.S. and the U.K. As of December, 2005, a/c #1 (based in Greenville, Texas) was well into its series of check flights while, in the U.K., a/c #2 had completed its first phase of flight testing. According to the test team, the DMR in a/c #1 was producing good quality imagery on only its second operational check flight.
Successful system connectivity was demonstrated on the first attempt with virtual end-to-end data flow demonstrated from the aircraft to the ground station in near real-time. Hand in hand with the radar and system testing regime, software release-vetting continues with additional image-manipulation features enabled such as pan and zoom controls. The aircraft had also conducted data exchange tests with J-Stars confirming the interoperability of the aircraft.
Justin Monger, U.S. ASTOR programme manager, said, “We are well into the flight test programme and making very good progress, especially regarding the radar and its imaging quality. The ASTOR integration and test programme is proving out the revolutionary capabilities of this system and securing its role in network enabled coalition operations – from SAR and GMTI, connectivity with air to ground and interoperability with systems like Joint STARS.”
Monger then went on to describe a series of SAR images taken by the ASTOR DMR radar and explained the significance of these images in that the quality was s excellent first time around, unlike 30 flights for the U2 and 12 for the Global Hawk.
During questions on this part of the briefing the Editor asked whether this DMR radar, based on the tried and tested U2 ASARS-2 radar had a designation. “Not yet’” replied Monger and would not elaborate further
Andrew Chuter of Defense News then asked Jack Cronin to comment on the fact that the NAO had criticised the fact that the programme had gone up from the stated £3780m contract price to £954m. Cronin would not be drawn on any extra costs looming in the wings but convinced his audience that the bugs have been ironed out of the system and the re were at least 12 potential customers waiting in the wings. This is up from the possible potentials, Germany, Egypt, Japan seen at the time of the original contract.
But is this really the peak of spending on ASTOR? There is little doubt that the ‘System’ that is the aircraft, Ground Stations and data links is performing well and been de-risked. But, is the radar the Achilles Heel in the Program and will it continue to devour money.
Cronin commented on the delays in the fielding of the second system explaining that the second radar was needed for simulation work to iron out the bugs on Number 1. But, neither Monger nor Cronin would comment on any progress in the development of the MTI system or indeed the stated ability of the radar to conduct concurrent SAR/MTI operations.
The ASARS-2 radar was developed in the seventies so is likely to have a closed architecture software system that would need to be unbundled to add on t