14 Oct 04. Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that disruption of the entry into UK service of the Raytheon Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) system is being threatened because “engineering difficulties” have forced a delay of at least six months in the installation of its radar on the first Sentinel R.1 electronic intelligence aircraft.
UK Royal Air Force (RAF) sources have told JDW that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is looking again at the declared September 2005 in-service date (ISD) of the Sentinel and its supporting ground elements.
The delivery of ASTOR’s dual-mode radar to Raytheon’s Greenville Texas site in August for installation on the Sentinel aircraft was delayed because of engineering difficulties and is now not likely to take place until February next year at the earliest, according to UK sources close to the programme.
This could have repercussions for the remainder of the UK’s flagship intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programme that might push the ISD into 2006 or even 2007. However, RAF officers say that, through reorganisation of other elements of the ASTOR effort, it might be possible “to win back time” and still achieve an initial operating capability (IOC) which would give the service a limited ability to deploy a couple of aircraft and ground stations on operations as planned by 2007.
“You may see a merging of ISD and IOC [involving the] dovetailing of UK integration trials, operational testing and operational evaluation activities,” said one MoD official.
The dual-mode radar is described by RAF officers as the “highest risk critical path item” on the ASTOR programme and, until in place and working, the contractor and customer will not be able to firm up the timescale for bringing the system into service with the RAF and British Army.
An MoD spokesman described ASTOR as a complex and challenging project. “We are working closely with the company as issues arise”, he told JDW.
“We have been informed of difficulties associated with radar and the company’s plans to resolve these. We are awaiting firm schedule details from the company, and subject to a risk analysis, will then make an informed judgement of impact on the in-service date. We are encouraged that Raytheon is committed to delivering this important capability and is working to minimise impact on the approved ISD.”
A spokeswoman for Raytheon Systems Company in London said “there had been issues, whole system integration issues, which have been mitigated by doing certain things at other times”.
She described these as “minor glitches” that were not insurmountable and said significant milestones had been achieved, including the first aircraft flight this year, mission system going into test in October and excellent results achieved from the radar in test chamber trials.
“The system is within reach, we need to step back and re-formulate our plan,” she said.
The development of the Bombardier Global Express airframe has gone well and RAF officers say there are “no issues with the aircraft itself”. Work on the ASTOR main operating base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire is also progressing well, with 5 (Army Co-operation) Squadron now formed and due to start its first training course shortly. One senior RAF officer said he was disappointed with the delay but that it needed to be placed in perspective.
Comment: As we said in our feature on ISTAR delays, the ASTOR ISD is creating headaches for the user and contractor alike. Whilst putting some detail to the Sunday Times story, this Jane’s piece does not really elaborate on the perceived problems facing ASTOR. It is likely that this flagship contract will enter service late and with sacrifices made for performance vs. cost. The radar now has an active array antenna and the MTI features have been enhanced following initial problems. It may be that the new antenna is heavier than the passive array system originally specified by RSL. This will create weigh