X-band AESA radar detailed
Thales has delivered the first SEARCHMASTER 400 multi-role airborne surveillance radar for system integration, ahead of deliveries of an eventual six examples to an undisclosed customer.
Delivered on schedule during the first quarter of 2017, the radar will be integrated onto an unspecified aircraft, and will then be delivered by the American system integrator to the customer.
The X-band active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar has been targeted for integration a number of different aircraft types, including the French Navy’s Dassault Atlantique 2 turboprops that are due to receive the radar as part of a programme upgrade. Flight testing is underway for this programme on an Atlantique 2 that the navy has offered for testing, which will eventually see 15 examples upgraded to receive the new radar. “We have already performed a huge amount of flight testing,” Thibault Trancart, Marketing Director for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) at Thales, told MONS at the company’s Rouen site on 31 May. “We are totally on plan.”
Another success for the programme was the signing of an agreement between Thales and Canadian company PAL Aerospace to convert one Bombardier DASH-8 Q300 turboprop into a surveillance aircraft, including integration of the radar and Thales’ AMASCOS command and control system.
A memorandum of understanding was signed at the end of 2016, and on 31 May 2017 the companies announced that they would convert the one example to provide by-the-hour ISR services under either dry or wet leasing terms. “We will be running a couple of competitive campaigns in addition to offering by-the-hour services…which will be carried out at the end of this year and into spring of next year,” Trancart said.
A Q300 configured for ISR operations is under development now, and is expected to be ready by the end of the year, Trancart said.
Just one aircraft will be converted initially, to allow the companies to assess what the market reaction to the offering is. After the companies have carried out the demonstration campaign, the aircraft will be available for commercial use, including the pay-per-hour ISR services.
India is one such market that could be interested in the capability, Trancart noted, considering there are a number of tenders underway to acquire maritime patrol aircraft for different services in the country.
“There have been a lot of requirements coming out from India,” he said. “There is huge potential in India for a multi-role capability. What we are trying to be is to be local,” he added, noting that Thales is looking to find partners in-country to team with. “We may consider manufacturing in India, and this is part of our strategy.”
In addition to turboprops, the SEARCHMASTER 400 can also be integrated on manned jet aircraft, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, medium- and heavy-lift rotorcraft, and airships. Trancart said that active conversations are underway regarding the potential to operate the radar from UAVs.
In March 2016, it was announced that Qatar had selected the SEARCHMASTER 400 for use within its Optionally Piloted Vehicles – Aircraft programme. A memorandum of understanding was signed, at the end of 2016, and on 31 May 2017 the companies announced that they would convert the one example to provide by-the-hour ISR services under either dry or wet leasing terms.
“The Qatar Armed Forces aim at excellence and innovation,” Gen Khalid Ahmad Al-Kuwari of the Qatar Armed Forces said at the time, although no further detail could be provided by Trancart in May.
“We have been partnering with Thales for decades. Thanks to this new Thales solution, we shall grow further our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.”
Additionally, there is also the opportunity to test the SEARCHMASTER 400 on-board the developmental STRATOBUS.
Under development by a Thales Alenia Space-led team, a scaled-down version of the stratospheric airship is expected to be tested at Istres air base in France in 2018, ahead of testing of the full-scale version in 2020.
The full scale STRATOBUS will carry a 250kg payload, will be able to carry out surveillance out to 200km at full altitude, so there is enough capacity to fly a range of sensor types.
Trancart said he hopes that integration of the SEARCHMASTER 400 on the solar-powered STRATOBUS will be a good way to develop the concept of operations of the radar and airship.
The SEARCHMASTER radar allows for a 360-degree field-of-view, can follow 1,000 tracks simultaneously, is belly or nose mounted, and weighs less than 78 kilogrammes.
Trancart notes that the radar is ITAR-free, so sales are not subject to US approvals, which is an appealing feature for potential customers. The ‘multi-role’ capability comes from its ability to carry out five key missions, namely anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, maritime surveillance, ground surveillance and tactical air support. SEARCHMASTER 400 derives technologies developed for Thales’ RBE2 AESA fire control radar developed for the Dassault RAFALE fighter, which is contracted for integration onto the aircraft of France, Egypt, Qatar and India.
There are also plans to develop a family of SEARCHMASTER airborne radars, which could include a fixed flat panel version, Trancart said.