Shortly before EURONAVAL Online, Thales presented via webinar its new AirMaster C airborne AESA radar. This will feature among the main sensors for the Airbus H-160M GUEPARD light helicopter, under development for the French armed forces, and will suit any small aircraft such as UAS, helicopters and small MPA.
According to Thales engineers, despite widespread stealth technology (radar, infrared, acoustic, etc.), radars will continue to be the main surveillance and detection sensor at sea. For the AirMaster C, this trend merges with the expanding use of remote-controlled and autonomous aircraft. In order to make the radar well-suited for aircraft, Thales has introduced four main evolutions - which will probably be reported on larger, more capable radars in the future.
First, the radar is lightweight, around 20kg, requires limited power to operate (about 1kW) and a minimal cooling system. The company claims a 30% reduction in size, weight and power (SWaP) characteristics compared with radars in the same class.
The second major area of intervention is construction materials. The AirMaster C introduces Silicon-Germanium (SiGe) technology for its transmitter-receiver modules (TRM), which allows the antenna to be air- rather than liquid-cooled =, thus requiring no refrigeration system – a first for an AESA radar.
Third, the radar is software-based with digital wave-forming. This will allow it to be easily upgraded and thus to remain significant throughout its service life. This feature also makes it possible to adapt the radar to all weather conditions, as well as to limit the need for human intervention at the point that the system will unlikely need a dedicated radar operator.
Finally, the radar is defined as ‘smart’ – able to integrate into a wide network of other sensors (on board and off board). Its contribution in terms of situational awareness will help shape the recognized air picture in the hands of the main C2 centre. Ongoing studies on automation and artificial intelligence will also provide the ability to autonomously identify, track and classify targets.
Thales has not disclosed details on the range and price, though it does claim these parameters are “competitive for its category.” The development and integration process for the H-160M are likely to take 24 months.
Marco Giulio Barone reporting from EURONAVAL Online for MON