Growlers for Growlers

The suggestion that the US could acquire two S-400 systems from Turkey has been unsurprisingly opposed by Russia. Such an acquisition could yield the US and her allies a treasure trove of intelligence.

A mooted plan for the US to buy S-400 SAM systems from Turkey could prompt a ELINT bonanza.

Senator John Thune, a Republican Senator from South Dakota has proposed that the US purchase the Almaz-Antey S-400 (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) long-range/high-altitude Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems that Turkey procured from Russia.

In 2017 Turkey procured two S-400 systems, a total of four battalions, for $2.4 billion with deliveries commencing in 2019. This threw a spanner in the works of plans by the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (THK/Turkish Air Force) to acquire Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning-II combat aircraft.

A total of 120 aircraft were expected to be acquired before the acquisition was cancelled by the administration of President Donald Trump in July 2019. The administration was concerned that the S-400’s sensors, principally its ground-based air defence and fire control radars, could collect sensitive information regarding the F-35A’s radar cross section and electromagnetic emissions.

The cancellation of the acquisition resulted in the four THK F-35As delivered to Luke airbase, Arizona, being rerolled to furnish the US Air Force.

Nyet from Moscow

Mr. Thune suggested that the US acquisition of both S-400 systems would remove them from Turkey and hence THK control allowing F-35A deliveries to continue. Russian lawmakers protested the proposal with Leonid Slutsky, chair of the Russian Duma (parliament) committee on international affairs, condemning Mr. Thune’s proposal as “unprincipled and cynical.”

It seems unlikely that such a purchase will occur in the near term. Such a move by Ankara would make Moscow hopping mad. Yet such a purchase by the US would offer serious benefits.

Intelligent Decision

Aside from resuming F-35A deliveries to Turkey, it would give the United States Air Force, and US armed forces in general, once of the world’s most advanced air defence systems to pour over at their leisure.

The US Department of Defence already possesses a smorgasbord of Soviet-era SAMs and ground-based air surveillance and fire control/ground-controlled interception radars. These have been sourced from a myriad of ex-Warsaw Pact countries. They are routinely used to provide realistic threats during US-based international air exercises like Red Flag.

The US Navy and USAF are both overhauling their Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (S/DEAD) postures. The US Navy is deploying the Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic warfare and S/DEAD aircraft, along with Northrop Grumman’s AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radar Guided Missile, a  variant of the venerable AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radar Missile) family. The US Air Force is optimising the F-35A to perform S/DEAD using Northrop Grumman’s AGM-88F HCS (HARM Control System) AGM-88 variant.

US and allied aircraft operating over Syria have flown in airspace thought to be protected by the S-400. Russia has deployed two systems to the northwest of the country since 2015.

However, there is doubt in some quarters of the NATO electronic warfare community as to whether either system has been activated in full for fear that Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) regarding their 91N6 (NATO reporting name Big Bird) S-band (2.3 gigahertz/GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) and 96L6E (NATO reporting name Cheese Board) C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) early warning and target acquisition radar could be hoovered up by US and NATO ELINT aircraft.

For all intents and purposes much of the S-400’s design and capabilities remain a mystery. No wonder Moscow is nervous about NATO getting its hands on a couple.

United States Of America – More AN/APY-10s For Poseidon

Raytheon has been tasked to build 14 AN/APY-10 airborne maritime surveillance radars for the US Navy’s new Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

The order, worth $48.8 million (€36.1 million), will include the supply of 13 radars, and one spare, to furnish the Lot-IV P-8A production run. The Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) P-8A Lot-IV contract was awarded to Boeing on 31st July and is worth $1.9 billion (€1.4 billion). These aircraft, and their accompanying radars, are expected to enter US Navy service by late 2016.

The radar is a direct descendent of Raytheon’s AN/APS-149 Littoral Surveillance Radar which equips the Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion aircraft which the P-8A will replace.

The AN/APY-10 uses an Active Electronically Scanned Array antenna to perform gather Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and inverse SAR imagery over land and water. Moreover, it can perform periscope detection for the anti-submarine mission.

Although no information appears to be publicly available regarding the particular specifications of the AN/APY-10, it is thought to be an X-band system, based on its AN/APS-137 lineage.

United States – APG-79 Contract

On 24th September, Raytheon was awarded a contract worth $39 million (€28 million) to supply 15 AN/APG-79 radars for US Navy Boeing F/A-18E/F combat aircraft for delivery by 2015.

Deliveries of the first low-rate initial production radar to Boeing for installation onboard the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet occurred in January 2005. This was followed in June 2005 with a contract worth $580 million (€444 million) for the delivery of 180 radars for installation on the Super Hornet over a five-year period.

In May 2013, a firm fixed-price delivery contract worth €6.5 million ($8.6 million) was awarded to Raytheon by the US Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River, Maryland for the supply of three AN/APG-79 radars.

The US Navy is upgrading its F/A-18E/F Super Hornets with Raytheon’s AN/APG-79. The upgrade will allow some of the legacy Raytheon AN/APG-73 radars outfitting early F/A-18E/F airframes to be cascaded down to other US Navy and Marine Corps Hornets which are still using the legacy Raytheon AN/APG-65 system.

The AN/APG-79 is essentially an AN/APG-65 radar family member with the additional of an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) antenna.

No official details have been released by the AN/APG-79’s manufacturer regarding the radar’s performance and specification, although unofficial sources state that the AESA antenna has up to 1,100 transmit/receive modules, and a range of over 123 nautical miles (228 kilometres) for a ten square-metre (107.6 square feet) sized target.

United States – Northrop Grumman Wins ViSAR Work

Northrop Grumman has been awarded a contract worth $5.6 million (€4.1 million), as of 15th September, to perform work on the Video Synthetic Aperture Radar (ViSAR) programme orchestrated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The company will construct and test a prototype ViSAR radar as part of the initiative led by L3 Communications’ Electron Devices division.

L-3 was awarded a contract by DARPA worth $2.6 million (€1.9 million) in July to perform the ViSAR design and development programme.

The ViSAR initiative intends to develop a SAR radar which can perform target identification through cloud and other battlefield obscurants to enable United States Air Force AC-130H/U Spectre/Spooky-II fixed-wing gunships to engage targets in bad weather or dusty conditions. This would have the added advantage of enabling the gunship to use such conditions to mask the aircraft from ground-to-air fire.

Ultimately, the ViSAR sensor is intended to compensate for shortfalls in the performance of the infra-red sensors which AC-130s routinely carry which can be disrupted by obscurants in the atmosphere. Once developed, the ViSAR sensor could be housed on the aircraft in an external pod mounting.

United States – Space Fence Switches Off

After over fifty years of operation, the United States Air Force has de-activated its Space Fence space debris surveillance system.

Correctly referred to as the Air Force Space Surveillance System (AF3S), the decision to close down Space Fence has been controversial as it will be some time until a replacement system is operational. The new AF3S is tipped to commence work in circa 2017. This has led to concerns that military and civilian spacecraft operators may be bereft of information regarding possible threats to their satellites from orbiting space debris.

Both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are competing to construct the new Space Fence. This will use S-band radars to track up to 200,000 targets, including those as small as a tennis ball in size, at a range of up to 1,930 kilometres (1,042 nautical miles).

The value of the new Space Fence system contract is estimated at €3 billion ($4 billion). On 28th September 2012 the USAF revealed that the first radar will be constructed on KwajaleinIsland, part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Radar imagery from the Space Fence will be relayed to the United States Strategic Command’s Joint Function Component Command for Space at Vandenburg Air Force Base, California.

United States Of America – AN/TPQ-49 Purchase

The US Army has placed an order worth $221.8 million (€168.6 million) for the supply of up to 73 AN/TPQ-49 weapons-locating radars with SRC.

So far, the firm has delivered in excess of 500 AN/TPQ-49s to the force. The contract for the 73 radars, announced on 19th July, follows an earlier contract awarded in September 2012 worth $250 million (€190 million) to provide the maintenance and upgrade of the radar in US Army service.

The L-band AN/TPQ-49 has a detection range in the region of ten kilometres (five nautical miles), and has a point of origin accuracy of 75 metres (246 feet) at five kilometres. The radar covers 360° in azimuth and 0-30° elevation. The entire AN/TPQ-49 systems weight is 68 kilograms (149 lbs).

United States: ViSAR Award

L-3 Electron Devices has been awarded a contract by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) worth $2.6 million (€1.9 million) to undertake the Video Synthetic Aperture Radar (ViSAR) design and development programme.

The ViSAR initiative intends to develop a SAR radar which can perform target identification through cloud and other battlefield obscurants to enable United States Air Force AC-130H/U Spectre/Spooky-II fixed-wing gunships to

AC-130U (US DoD)
AC-130U (US DoD)

engage targets in bad weather or dusty conditions. This would have the added advantage of enabling the gunship to use such conditions to mask the aircraft from ground-to-air fire.

As part of the contract L-3 will construct and test the radar, and then integrate it onto an AC-130 airframe for additional testing. Ultimately, the ViSAR sensor is intended to compensate for shortfalls in the performance of the infra-red sensors which AC-130s routinely carry which can be disrupted by obscurants in the atmosphere. Once developed, the ViSAR sensor could be housed on the aircraft in an external pod mounting.

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