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  • Non-kinetic Weapons for the RAAF
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 4:12 PM on Feb 03, 2011

    Australia’s Wedgetail early warning aircraft – which carries a large, low frequency, radar – is being refined to locate very small targets at long range which gives it the potential to counter reduced signature designs such as China’s J-20 strike aircraft and the PLAAF’s low-observable cruise missile.

    Other potential missions could involve electronic attack and network invasion. Active, electronically scanned arrays (AESA) can be engineered to create data beams that can be packed with algorithms. These data beams can be fired into antennas linked to integrated air defenses and other communications nodes as a way to inject malware and extract intelligence from networks of interest.

    “Anything you can envision that is in the public forum on AESA technologies could be adapted and evolved to MESA,” says a senior Australian defense official.

    The RAAF purposely chose to equip the Boeing-made Wedgetail with the large, Northrop Grumman-designed, L-band, all-weather Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar. Special radar modes can increase its range. Northrop Grumman admits to more than a 200-mi. range for the radar. In fact, it is often limited only by the horizon and radar specialists contend that AESA radars double or triple the range of conventional mechanically scanned radars. The 737-700 Increased Gross Weight variant has a 15-ft. plug between wing and tail replaced and reinforced for the 3.5-ton radar and two 12-ft. long ventral fins added for aerodynamic stability.

    “It’s fast enough to keep track of maneuvering targets that you could not keep track of if the radar was taking a snapshot every 10 sec., which is the scan rate of an AWACS,” says Bob Hendrix, chief architect for Northrop Grumman ISR systems division. “Supersonic missiles are in the target set. The technology also is there to pick out individuals walking in a huge area” like the savannah of Northern Australia where drug and immigrant smuggling is big business.

    Boeing plans to complete delivery and integration of the Wedgetail’s initial package of hardware and software this year.

    “We’re on track to deliver full-up capability with the Electronic Support Measures [surveillance] and radar improvements and everything else by the end of 2011,” say Ian Thomas, Boeing’ president for Australia & South Pacific. “As we’ve gone through the exercises with the RAAF and as they get more aircraft for training purposes they are finding capability that they didn’t fully anticipate. They are letting the guys in back dial up the network and pull in Super Hornets and other aircraft. That’s opening their minds to the long-term potential that the [Wedgetail mission system] has. It is fundamental and central to the network-enabled capability of the air force.”

    But there are concerns about what the platform can or should be designed to do in the areas of electronic attack and network invasion, for example.

    “There is a danger in mixing some of those missions,” the Australian defense official says. “Just as there is non-kinetic potential with the AESA radars on fighter aircraft [in electronic warfare and jamming], there is a similar potential in the MESA. But you have to consider the type of aircraft you want to put non-kinetic attack options on. AEW&C vulnerability [in size, speed and agility] would be a factor. You don’t want to make yourself too tempting a target when you are such a critical part of the network.”

    Tags: ar99, MESA, Wedgetail, RAAF

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