The radar gazed like a patient sentinel across the mist-laden fields, bathed in the early dawn sun. Thales’ factory in Hengelo, eastern Netherlands, is to radar geeks what Comic-Con is to science fiction fans. The site is festooned with radar testing towers, and a factory bejewelled with a sumptuous anechoic chamber.
Company officials revealed on 28 February that Thales expects to install the first of its Above Water Warfare Suite (AWWS) naval surveillance and fire control radar on-board the Belgian and Dutch Navies’ new frigates in 2025.
Four ships will replace the four frigates of the ‘Karel Doorman’ class, two of which each equip the two navies. One ship will be delivered annually between 2026 and 2030. The first two will equip the Koninklijke Marine (KM/Royal Netherlands Navy). The final two will equip the Belgian Maritime Component. The officials continued that design work on the AWWS was already well underway.
AWWS will comprise two radars; one of which will transmit in S-band (2.3 gigahertz/GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz)?. The other will transmit in X-band (8.5GHz to 10.68GHz). Although two radars comprise the architecture, they will be mounted in the same structure. This approach mirrors that taken by Raytheon in the realisation of the AN/SPY-6 S/X-band radar. This has been developed for the US Navy’s ‘Arleigh Burke Flight-III’ class destroyers. Thales stated that the S-band system will provide volume surface and air search. The X-band radar will provide fire control, a surface-to-air missile uplink/downlink and precision target tracking.
Despite AWWS being at the design stage, the company has taken some decisions regarding the systems’ architecture. The S-band radar could use the company’s SMART-S Mk.2 S-band radar as the S-band baseline. The X-band system will be based on Thales’ APAR X-band radar. Both these systems are in service on-board several warships around the world. Officials continued that AWWS will fuse the S-band and X-band radar imagery to form a single recognised air/surface picture. Current developmental efforts are testing the APAR hardware and software vis-à-vis its migration into the AWWS ensemble.
Commenting on the requirement for the AWWS, Thales officials argued that the threat environment which naval surveillance radars were required to address is increasingly diverse. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) now complement air-breathing threats as posing a danger to navies. Hypersonic Anti-Ship Missiles (AShM) capable of reaching speeds of 3,333 knots (6,174 kilometres-per-hour) are an additional worry. The Indo-Russian BrahMos AShM can reportedly reach 1,998 knots (3,700 km/h). Similarly, artillery is increasing in range and precision. Alongside the threat posed by UAVs, this places an imperative on detecting and tracking fast and small targets.
Thales continued that new kinetic effects such as electromagnetic rail guns and advanced surface-to-air missiles like Raytheon’s RIM-62 Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile Block-2, currently under development, will require more capable radars for fire control. The firm stated that advances in computer processing and data storage were allowing the development of next-generation naval surveillance radars to meet these requirements and threats. At the same time, officials stressed the importance of ‘future proofing’ these radars. This is to ensure their capabilities remain sharp through software and hardware modifications during a three-decade service life. A formal contract for the acquisition of the AWWS is expected to be signed by the Dutch government and Thales later in the year, possibly in October.
Elsewhere, Thales revealed that its second Smart-L L-band (1.215GHz to 1.4GHz) naval surveillance/ground-based air surveillance radar will be delivered to the KM within the next two weeks. One system has already been installed on-board the service’s ‘De Zeven Provincien’ class frigates. Four other radars remain at the company’s Hengelo factory. Two of which will equip a further two ships in the class.
The Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KL/Royal Netherlands Air Force) will acquire two of the radars to support ground-based air surveillance. One of these will be located at the KL’s Air Operations Control Station at Nieuw Milligen in the eastern Netherlands. The second SMART-L will be located near the village of Wier in the north of the country. These will be used to support the integrity of Dutch airspace. They will feed radar imagery into the recognised air picture developed by the KL’s ThalesRaytheonSystems Air Command and Control System (ACCS).
ACCS is a scalable hardware and software architecture being rolled out across NATO’s European membership (sans Germany and the UK). This replaces several disparate, legacy air command and control systems. The principle difference between the KL and KM SMART-L radars is the externally-mounted IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) interrogator/transponder mounted atop of the former. Thales officials disclosed that this is required for the KL radars because of the plethora of IFF categories the air force has to work with in western Europe’s crowded airspace. This is less of a concern for navies operating on the high seas where airspace maybe less saturated.
Dr Thomas Withington