The success of the US Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint STARS, in which the combination of a long-range battlefield surveillance platform mounting a side-looking phased array multimode radar, has made other commanders aware how essential this capability is to the successful conduct of modern warfare. In the E-8 the ability of the Northrop Grumman APY-3 to operate in either synthetic aperture mode, where it can distinguish targets out to 175km and survey a vast area in one eight hour sortie, or pulse doppler mode where it can track moving vehicles, has been used to great affect in the first Gulf War in 1991, Bosnia and Kosovo between 1995-9 and the second Gulf War in 2002.
NATO soon recognised that the organisation needed the same capability, which it entitled the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system, but, as with the E-3A Sentry, it needed to be independent of direct US control. Using a similar mode to the successful multi-national NATO purchase and operation of the Sentry was an obvious solution. At around the same time the UK was also interested in purchasing an aircraft with exactly the same capability but in a much shorter timescale; nevertheless, NATO attempted to draw the UK into the AGS group. However, the UK has, through some bitter experiences, grown wary of being drawn into a collaborative project where a large number of countries are involved, particularly if France are included. The UK’s reluctance to be drawn into these groups are because the projects invariably take much longer, are more expensive, the specification is focussed on a broader NATO requirement rather than exactly what the UK needs and finally the finished platform is controlled by NATO and not the UK. For these reasons, the UK once again opted out and instead went ahead with the purchase of the Sentinel R1 ASTOR, tailored to UK requirements, owned, operated and based in the UK. I also imagine UK Ministers decided it was better to spend UK taxpayer’s money supporting UK industry, rather than see this money largely disappear across the Channel.
By 12 Jan 04 two bids had been received by NATO in response to their requirement for the successful bidder to use the planned active electronically scanning Transatlantic Co-operative AGS Radar (TCAR), which is a further development of the US Multi Platform Radar Technology Insertion Programme and the European Stand-Off Surveillance and Target Acquisition Radar (SOSTAR) technology demonstrator. The two competiting consortia were known as the CTAS and TIPS teams.
The CTAS or Cooperative Transatlantic Alliance Ground Surveillance team consisted of Raytheon (USA), BAe Systems (UK) and AMS, a UK/Italian company. The CTAS team were hoping to build on the Sentinel R1 ASTOR programme by offering eight Bombardier Global Express aircraft, equipped with the TCAR radar, or five aircraft and seven long endurance Predator B UAVs, . The aircraft were planned to operate with two pilots and three system operators. In addition, both options included the delivery of 49 general ground stations, including 30 mobile systems, one maritime system together with additional fixed and transportable units.
Arrayed against the CTAS team were the TIPS team, a wide ranging alliance consisting of EADS (Multi national European), Galileo Avionica (Italy), General Dynamics Canada, Indra (Spain), Northrop Grumman (USA) and Thales (French). TIPS were also offering a similar mix of aircraft and UAVs. The TIPS solution was six modified Airbus A321 airliners, equipped with the TCAR radar and work in conjunction with six Euro Hawks UAVs, a specific variant of the High-Altitude Long- Endurance (HALE) Global Hawk, also equipped with a smaller version of the TCAR radar. It was originally planned to fit the TCAR radar in the A321 in a ventral canoe shaped fairing under the forward fuselage, similar to the location of the radar in the E-8 J-STARS. However, it was later decided to adopt a simpler, lower risk, solution, by locating the radar in a large quadripod on pylons above the fuselage. Although much less elegant, mounting the radar above the fuselage will involve fewer modifications and also improve manoeuvrability.
The TIPS A321 will fly up to 39,000ft at around 500kts with a typical mission length of 10 hours which can be extended by in flight refuelling. The A321 will carry a multi national crew of 2 pilots and around 14 system operators, who can provide onboard imagery-processing and a battle management/command and control capability, although the majority of the intelligence processing will take place on the ground after the imagery has been sent via data-link or SATCOM to a ground station. The TCAR radar on the A321 will measure between 17-18 feet long and two feet high.
The Euro Hawk will be a special version of the RQ-4B Global Hawk, a HALE UAV that has already proved itself over Afghanistan and Iraq. The smaller version of the TCAR radar on the Euro Hawk will be 9-10 feet long and 15 – 18 inches high and the UAV will also be equipped with a sophisticated suite of electro-optical and infrared sensors and be linked to both the A321 and ground stations by either data link or SATCOM. Typically the Euro Hawk will fly a 24-36 hr mission at 340kts and 65,000ft. Germany has already committed itself to the purchase of six similar Euro Hawks, but equipped with an EADS ELINT package carried in place of the electro-optical sensor, to replace their ELINT Dassault Atlantics.
In Apr 2004 it was announced that the TIPS team had been selected to provide the NATO AGS system, an unsurprising decision as the selection of this consortium would provide the most work for European aerospace companies. Raytheon protested the award of the contract, but to little affect. The TIPS team a two year 350 million euro ($423M) design and development contract which should be signed by spring 2005. The first flight of the modified A321 is planned for early 2008, with the TCAR integration by mid 2008 and production in 2010. Euro Hawk delivery and certification is planned for mid 2007 with TCAR integration taking place some time between 2009-11.
The NATO AGS programme was thoroughly derailed at a meeting of the projects steering committee in Brussels on 20 Oct 06, when France and Germany raised objections to certain aspects of the project. France decided to raise doubts about aspects of the AGS requirements, despite their own experts having had a major hand in drawing up the specifications. Germany suddenly decided to object to the projects $4.2 billion price tag, although it has known all along that the original price tag was probably on the low side and that these kind of multi-national projects always end up costing more than originally estimated, simply because too many fingers are in the pie at the outset. Following these objections, NATO’s conference of national directors (CNAD) were poorly placed to begin negotiations with the six-member AGS industry consortium, but agreed to start talks and also gave France and Germany the option of leaving the programme, although exactly how it could survive without these two major European partners, who are also contributing 34% of the projects cost, was conveniently overlooked.
Of even greater interest is the background to France’s objection, as the key to the whole project is the radar system carried aboard the Airbus 321s and Global Hawks. France and some other partner nations had previously agreed that the best solution was to customise the radar carried by the Airbus 321s to fit inside the Global Hawks, or possibly building a new radar if this proved too difficult. In the event, financial considerations resulted in an agreement, accepted by France, to concur with the industrial consortium’s recommendation to use an updated version of the USAF J-STARS radar made by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. Now a French official has said “We agreed to go ahead with the project, but we reserve the right to study the radar aspect and withdraw from the project if the requirement does not meet France’s expectations – we think the radar is quite expensive”. Other officials indicated that they believed that the industrial consortium’s recommendation to use an updated version of the USAF J-STARS radar did not offer real trans-Atlantic co-operation and that there should be more European involvement in the radar development. Furthermore, they believed that operational needs had changed since the program was first defined in the early 1990’s and that the mission should be re-evaluated, though not re-defined. An incremental step approach was preferred to acquiring a high performance system at huge expense. However, all this waffel is really nothing more than a smokescreen to disguise France’s ambition to replace the proposed AGS radar with an all-new European radar, preferably designed and built in France.
Throughout most of the AGS programme, French have continually changed their position, one minute supporting the programme, the next minute obstructing the programme, simply as a means of obtaining either a technological or industrial advantage. The USA is keen to see better interoperability between US and European equipment and is supported by their aviation industry which is keen to sell equipment abroad. However, US officials are also only too well aware of how duplicitous the French can be in their desire to acquire US technology. Many US officials now believe that the new French position on the AGS price and radar requirement is just a ploy to allow France to achieve what they have always really wanted – a radar completely independent of the US, but preferably making maximum use of US technology acquired under the AGS programme. In effect, the French are believed to have used the AGS programme simply as a cover for their attempts to learn as much about the US APY-3 Norden Systems multi-mode phased array radar as possible, before creating some objections that would result in the radar being replaced by a new radar designed and built in France. Having acquired the necessary technology, the French could then adapt it for use in their own UAVs or fighter aircraft.
The French and to a lesser extent the Germans are playing a dangerous game in this latest twist to the AGS programme and one that could have very serious implications for the industrial consortium’s partners, EADS, Galileo, Avionica, General Dynamics, Canada, Indra, Northrop Grumman and Thales. Cost-shares arrangements have still to be finalised, but at the moment the loss of France with a 16% stake and Germany with a 18% stake would surely be a death blow for this troubled project. If this happened, it would also mean that the remaining countries Italy, the Netherlands and Spain would be without the capability, despite having already invested a considerable amount of money. This latest example of French double-dealing in the AGS serves only to emphasise the wisdom of the UK’s decision to go ahead and acquire the R-1 Sentinel independent of any other country. In addition, it also should serve as a warning to any country considering joining the French in a joint project – in a word, don’t!!