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  • London Plans To Axe New Ground Surveillance Aircraft
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 4:06 PM on Oct 22, 2010

    As part of its huge budget-cutting plan, British government officials are considering retiring the country’s five, brand new, Raytheon-built, Sentinel R-1 radar, ground-surveillance aircraft which are being used heavily to support troops in Afghanistan to track insurgents and avoid ambushes.

    At the same time, the plan is expected to kill the Nimrod signals and communications intelligence gathering aircraft program – also a key to finding, tracking and listening to insurgents – while replacing them with three refurbished, U.S.-built, RC-135 Rivet Joint sigint/comint aircraft.

    Government officials suggest that the F-35, with its active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and advanced electronic surveillance capability can be substituted for the Sentinel, at least.

    “The notion that the F-35 can provide the coverage [and endurance] that Sentinel can is the product of a staffer who has no idea of physics and the capabilities of either aircraft,” says a U.S.-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance specialist with insight into the program. “It’s just goofy.”

    Britain now has all five of its Sentinel aircraft operating with joint Army, Navy and Royal Air Force crews with No. 5 Reconnaissance Squadron.

    “Because of the size of the antenna, a dismount surveillance capability [--the ability to see people at walking speed] is absolutely feasible,” the specialist says. “With software upgrades and flight testing that would cost about $25-30 million.”

    A more comprehensive mid-life upgrade proposal for 2015 would upgrade the system with a next-generation radar that would cost $500 million to $1 billion for all five Sentinels.

    “That will be a target for the budget cutters,” the specialist says. “But it would add more than the dismount capability. It would give longer surveillance range, higher resolutions, greater accuracy, more GMTI [to locate smaller and slower ground targets and low-flying helicopters], geo-positioning and lots of automatic functions such as target recognition and precision targeting.”

    The Sentinel could also take on the signals and communications intelligence gathering done by the specialized intelligence-gathering Nimrods which also are being eyed for elimination.

    “The price tag for three Rivet Joints [to replace the Nimrods] will be over $1 billion and it will be a huge program to refit the aircraft and add the sensors,” he says. “There are already completed studies that show you can pack the comint and sigint capability into the Sentinel and give it 80 percent of the capability of Rivet Joint for $200 million per platform.”

    Tags: ar99, Sentinel R-1, Nimrod, F-35, RivetJoint

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