PARIS --- The €1.5 billion contract recently awarded to Germany’s Hensoldt for the development and production of a new AESA radar for Eurofighter is a direct consequence of the 2018 break-up of the original Euroradar project into three separate programs.
Instead of pursuing the original Captor-E radar that will be fitted to the Eurofighters delivered to Kuwait and Qatar (as well as the next batch of Typhoons for Saudi Arabia, if it enters production), the four partner nations separated into two groups because of differing operational requirements.
Germany and Spain decided to jointly fund the development and retrofit of a new radar, provisionally dubbed E-Scan Common Radar System (ECRS) Mk. 1, for their own Eurofighters because their operational requirements differ from those of Italy and the United Kingdom, the other two partners in the Eurofighter consortium.
Captor-E design refresh
Another reason is that the technology of the basic Captor-E is now over a decade old, and so requires modernization, a spokesman for Hensoldt said July 1. The resulting ECRS Mk 1 radar will be jointly developed by German systems house Hensoldt and its Spanish partner Indra, and is the object of the €1.5 billion contract announced July 1.
In parallel, Italy and the UK are teamed on a separate project, dubbed ECRS Mk. 2, managed by Leonardo Italy and Leonardo UK, although there has been no indication of any government funding for this effort. Both Italy and the UK operate Lockheed F-35 aircraft alongside their Eurofighters, and neither has yet announced plans to retrofit the latter with AESA radars.
Both the Mk 1 program and the Mk 2 project are derived from the original Captor-E electronically scanned digital antenna array radar developed under a November 2014 contract awarded by the NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency (NETMA) to the Eurofighter consortium. The Captor-E prototype antenna first flew in May 2007 on Eurofighter Development Aircraft 5, but it took seven years for the full-scale development contract to be awarded.
Confusion allows marketing license
While a certain confusion is maintained by the use of different names, the fact is that there are now three different AESA radars for Eurofighter, albeit all derived from the same Captor mechanically-scanned radar (originally called ECR-90) fitted to all Eurofighters.
The German Ministry of Defence announced June 8 that the “Bundeswehr is authorized to conclude four contracts with a total volume of around 2.8 billion euros for new radar technology for the Eurofighter.”
The statement added that these funds will pay to pay for the procurement of “the most modern AESA electronically-scanned radars, including multi-channel receivers to exploit the performance potential of this future-oriented technology, are to be developed and integrated into the Eurofighter.”
“The procurement of the already developed radar hardware should run parallel to the development of the final software. In the middle of the 2020s, the new radar system should then be available with full capabilities,” German MoD said.
The resulting ECRS Mk 1 radar “will then have improved detection and identification options with higher immunity to interference… an important contribution to the capabilities and survivability of the Eurofighter.”
Convoluted contract arrangements
The contractual arrangements are also somewhat confusing, and added to the use of multiple names allow participants considerable latitude to claim involvement in the EASA radar program.
“Due to the special construction of the Eurofighter consortium, NETMA signed the contract with Eurofighter GmbH, which forwarded the contract to Airbus Defense and Space, and Airbus signed,” an Airbus spokesman said July 2.
“Hensoldt and Indra have closed a cooperation agreement to jointly develop and produce the ECRS Mk 1 in a consortium. The subcontract went from Airbus to Hensoldt as the consortium lead, with a significant portion passed on directly to Indra,” which is not a subcontractor but a full partner, the Hensoldt spokesman said.
The original contract for 115 E-SCAN radars was announced by Airbus on June 25. This work was then subcontracted by Airbus to Hensoldt, the leader of a separate consortium with Spain’s Indra.
Eurofighter GmbH, the industry consortium which is nominally the program’s main contractor, announced July 1 having signed the ESCAN radar contract with NETMA. In its press release, company CEO Herman Claesen said “we are again demonstrating our collective commitment towards the continued development of Eurofighter Typhoon operational capability,” which is clearly not the case as only Germany and Spain are buying AESA radars.
Furthermore, although it’s eager to jump onto the bandwagon, Eurofighter GmbH's role is limited to managing the relationship between the four Eurofighter Core nations.
Hensoldt says the just-awarded ECRS Mk 1 contracts cover a new German-Spanish development of new core components – including a digital multi-channel receiver and transmitter/receiver antenna modules – which a company spokesman says “will make the Eurofighter much more capable of meeting future threats over the coming decades.”
“This means that pilots in the Eurofighter will be better able to detect and engage air-to-air and air-to-ground targets. Several targets will be can be tracked and engaged simultaneously and independently of one another,” the German Ministry of Defence said June 8.
Hensoldt’s contracts include equipping about 130 Eurofighter aircraft of Tranches two and three. The development is being carried out by a Spanish-German industrial consortium under German leadership with the support of the Eurofighter nations Great Britain and Italy, the company said in its July 1 press release.
The difference between the 115 radars mentioned by Airbus and the 130 mentioned by Helsoldt is due to a change in the timing of the Spanish procurement. Spain has up to now ordered the first five Mk 1 radars, and plans to order another 17 in 2021, for a total of 22, an Airbus spokesman said July 2.
This will be an essential upgrade for the German and Spanish Eurofighters, which are still fitted with the original Captor radar that is now nearly 30 years old.
-- July 02 @ 1445 CET: added additional details of Spain's radar procurement plans in penultimate paragraph.