Alenia Difesa Betting On Radar Market Growth

New technology and cooperative ventures highlight Italian avionics suppliers' approach to the changing marketplace. Joint research is giving Alenia an entree into advanced radar development too expensive for a single company to pursue. At the same time, the company is capitalizing on refinements to proven systems for international aircraft upgrades. Milan-based Alcatel Air Navigation Systems SpA., long a leader in ground-based air traffic control systems, expects to bank on the sale of terrestrial systems for at least another 10 years, before satellite navigation and communication take over. MES, a much smaller company, is enjoying a good business supplying small assemblies to a variety of international aerospace manufacturers.

Alenia Difesa is refining its existing radar technology and teaming to bid for new radar systems for military fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, anticipating increased military sales in 1998.

The company is part of the team supplying the radar for the Eurofighter 2000 and also the consortium bidding for the ENR-90 radar for the NH-90 helicopter. The biggest seller is the Grifo family of radars used to upgrade fighter aircraft, according to Raffaele Esposito, who heads the Avionic Systems and Equipment Div. But the company also has a variety of helicopter radars. The proven Creso radar, used on Italian army AB 412 helicopters, will be proposed as a gap-filler for battlefield surveillance systems, such as the U.S. Air Force's Joint-STARS.

Fiar, now part of Alenia Difesa, produces the company's airborne radars. It is a member of the team developing the ECR 90 for Eurofighter 2000. GEC-Marconi Avionics leads the contractor team, which includes Daimler-Benz Aerospace, Fiar and Enosa. The ECR 90 first flew on Eurofighter 2000 last March and has logged more than 30 hr. in two aircraft to date. Radar flight tests are expected to continue through 2002.

Alenia is part of a consortium bidding for the ENR-90 radar for the NH-90 helicopter. Partners in that effort are Thomson-CSF and DASA. The radar is based on Alenia's APS-784, Thomson's Ocean Master and DASA's inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) technology, according to Esposito.

The 784 is a big radar, intended for large helicopters such as the EH-101. A high-powered version on a helicopter could give navies an early warning detection of surface and air contacts.

The Creso radar system is a pulse Doppler radar designed for battlefield surveillance from helicopters. It is used on the Italian army's Augusta AB-412 helicopters as part of its surveillance and target identification subsystem of the Catrin system.

Creso has a moving target indicator (MTI) capability but is not a synthetic aperture radar. It detects moving targets and gives a precise location but without the high-quality battlefield imagery of the Joint-STARS SAR (AW&ST Mar. 25, 1991, p. 27). However, its Doppler gives some capability to differentiate wheeled vehicles from those with tracks.

Helicopters can add several new elements to battlefield surveillance. Unlike Joint-STARS, which orbits at a safe distance from the forward edge of the battle area, a helicopter could sneak in closer shielded by terrain, popping up over a hill or mountain just long enough to take a couple of radar scans. With line-of-sight ranges out to 100 km. (54 naut. mi.), several sweeps of the full Doppler radar should give high target resolution and a way to look into areas hidden by terrain from Joint-STARS. The company plans a demonstration this fall for NATO officials. Still, Alenia is not optimistic about the possibilities of selling helicopter radars in the U.S. -- Esposito said Texas Instruments has that market locked up.

The company hopes to sell variations of its Grifo radar in Southeast Asia and China, and has found some interest in Russia, particularly for the Yak-130 and MiG-21, Esposito said. Fiar developed the Grifo family of multimode pulse Doppler X-band radars in a modular fashion so that versions could be tailored for new aircraft or used to update older fleets. Grifo 7, the smallest version, was designed specifically for the Chinese F-7. Grifo F, L, M and X are heavier and more complex but have greater capabilities.

Fiar is under contract to Boeing to supply 70 Grifo F radars for the L-159 aircraft under development by Aero Vodochody for the Czech air force. Boeing is the avionics prime contractor. Fiar has sold an additional 200 Grifo radars internationally.

Grifo F, in production for retrofit into the Northrop F-5E/F, has 28 modes of operation and is intended to have performance close to that of the APG-68 in the F-16, but is scaled to fit into the small nose cone of an A-4. Grifo M3 is similar to the F version, but with an antenna tailored to fit the nose of the Mirage 3. A lightweight Grifo X+ was developed for the AMX aircraft. The Grifo family is still evolving. Air-to-air improvements are the top priority, but there is interest in air-to-ground mapping and in more processing of radar returns to increase the resolution.

Scipio is a radar that was developed for the Brazilian air force AMX aircraft independently of the Grifo family.

One distinguishing design characteristic is the use of an inverse Cassegrain antenna -- the Grifo family uses a flat plate antenna. The antenna had to be tailored to fit the nose of the AMX aircraft, and it is intended mainly for naval applications, according to the company. The inverse Cassegrain design has only about half the moment of a regular Cassegrain. That radar is produced by SMA, a small radar company in Florence that merged with Galileo, both now part of Alenia Difesa.

For next-generation radars, the company has a small research effort for phased array and inverse synthetic aperture radars. This is a collaborative activity with GEC-Marconi, DASA and Thomson-CSF. DASA has already demonstrated an ISAR radar, according to Esposito. The companies are aiming these efforts at mid-life upgrades of the new tactical aircraft.

Another possible cooperative venture being considered is with Russian avionics manufacturer Leninets on a dual mode radar. The concept would be an airborne radar using X-band for long-range search and millimeter-wave transmissions for weather detection. Leninets is Russia's leading weather radar company. Russia also has extensive experience with millimeter-wave radar for use as a landing aid, which Alenia would like to combine with its technology to produce a system suitable for Russian customers.

One company initiative to gain wider market access is to provide maintenance for radar and radar systems. The idea is that good penetration of the radar maintenance market could be a starting point for servicing entire avionics systems.

Not limited to radar, Alenia Difesa is working with Pilkington Optronics to develop the passive Pirate Infrared Search and Track (IRST) system for Eurofighter 2000 as a complementary sensor to radar. The Russian Su-27 has an IRST that's similar in concept but is big and heavy. Pirate will have better detectors and will be smaller and lighter, Esposito said. Alenia has the responsibility for system integration and stabilization. The system has not been installed on a Eurofighter 2000 yet, but the development is about 75% completed.

Alenia also is working as a subcontractor to GEC-Marconi for a helmet-mounted display for Eurofighter 2000. That contract was awarded last fall. GEC-Marconi has a new optical design, for which Alenia will provide symbol generation and graphics, similar to those on head-up displays.

In the area of ground-based radars, the company is working on systems that can be airlifted for strategic mobility. The RAT-31 series is a family of 3D planar array radars that can function individually or as part of an integrated network. The arrays use multiple beams, with the advantage of greater flexibility in managing power and selecting waveforms. In future developments, the company plans to expand its variety of waveforms, tailoring them to meet specific requirements. In fact, separate waveforms will likely be developed for the military and reserved for wartime use only, so a potential enemy would not have time to build countermeasures before facing them in battle.

Alenia's tactical MRCS-403 is a flexible air surveillance and control system that can be used for fixed or mobile installations. Radars for the system include the RAT-31SL long-range (450-km.) S-band radar and the RAT-31S medium-range (300-km.) S-band radar. These 3D radars are mounted on trailers and erected hydraulically. The MRCS-403 with its five operators and three consoles can track up to 100 targets, control up to four simultaneous intercepts and provide ATC for up to four airfields -- but not all at one time. Operators use control consoles, data processing and communications systems, also made by the company. Italy, Austria and Brazil have bought the medium-range 31S; Denmark and Turkey, the long-range 31L.

The RAT-31 S family uses planar arrays, scanning electronically in elevation and rotating mechanically in azimuth. Multiple independently controlled pencil beams give these radars flexibility in searching and a track-while-scan capability. The high data rate is helpful for processing out clutter in an electronically noisy environment. Although transportable, the 31S and 31SL are large radars. Another family member -- the RAT-31 S/C -- is a highly mobile radar mounted on a trailer that can be set up in less than 35 min. Adopted by the Italian army for its Forward Area Air Defense System, the RAT-31 S/C is intended for rapid deployable forces. The 3D S-band system has similar characteristics to the RAT-31 S and SL and can surveil out to 150 km. (81 naut. mi.).

The most advanced member of the family is the RAT-31DL, which uses an active array employing 44 solid-state transmit/ receive modules. This L-band early warning radar electronically directs four independent pencil beams in elevation for monopulse altitude measurement with high accuracy even in a frequency-agile mode. Peak power can be reduced to decrease vulnerability to antiradiation missiles and electronic countermeasures.

Denmark and Turkey are each buying two RAT-31DL radars under a NATO-funded program to modernize the air/ ground environment.

There will be greater demand for flexibility in radars, and the ability to reprogram them to meet changing tactical situations. These techniques benefit from programmable signal and data processors. Alenia already has updated radars in its catalog that can meet the requirements for the next few years, a company official said.

Battlefield command, control, communications and intelligence systems are a logical adjunct to the company's air defense and ATC systems. Catrin is such a system. Alenia is responsible for two of Catrin's three major subsystems, and the Sotrin consortium (comprising Marconi, Italtel and Alcatel/Telettra) provides the third. First is air surveillance over the battlefield, command and control of Italian army light aviation and antiaircraft artillery and airspace management. An integrated network of 2D and 3D radars provides the air picture. A second Alenia responsibility is acquisition and processing of enemy activity on the ground. Data may be received from a broad array of sensors including UAVs, Creso heliborne surveillance radar and artillery locating radars. Catrin was developed for the Italian army, has been tested in the field, and is being bid for a NATO program.

One of those 2D radars is the Argos-73, a solid-state S-band radar with a con-ventional parabolic antenna and a detection range out to 150 km. In cooperation with Unisys, the company has sold 17 to the U.S. Marine Corps and one to the U.S. Air Force.

The American forces wanted the system as a gap-filler to be in place and provide ATC and landing assistance before the first aircraft arrived in a forward location. One of the system's strengths is its ability to detect and identify targets traveling at different velocities -- from hovering helicopters to low-flying aircraft at speeds up to Mach 3 -- in dense clutter environments, according to the company.

Advances in radar have brought the attributes needed for ATC very close to those required for air defense. Particularly for tactical systems, there are a number of advantages in having a 3D air defense system that can be deployed to a remote location and also function for air traffic control