Magazine article National Defense

World Market for Early Warning Radar Could Reach $30 Billion

Magazine article National Defense

World Market for Early Warning Radar Could Reach $30 Billion

Article excerpt

Several multi-national aerospace industry teams will be vying, during the next 10 to 20 years, for a piece of what could be a $30 billion market for so-called airborne early-warning and control (AEW&G) systems.

Among the most popular AEW&C systems today is the U.S. Air Force AWACS (airborne warning and control system), an air surveillance radar aircraft. The E-3 Sentry AWACS, built on a Boeing 707 jet, also serves in other roles, such as electronic-signal monitoring, command and control, as well as air-traffic control. During military operations, AWACS becomes a communications node that links ground commanders, air forces and warships. It plays an air-defense role in the detection of cruise missile attacks.

There are about 220 AEW&C platforms worldwide today, 76 of which are AWACS. But Boeing no longer makes the 707 jet. The last AWACS units to roll off the assembly line, bought by Japan, were made on 767 jets. The AWACS system will stay around for several more decades, while undergoing upgrades, but no new production is expected. For most countries outside NATO, AWACS is too big and too expensive, each costing up to $500 million.

Boeing now believes that the future is in the business-jet sized AEW&C platform, which can do many of the AWACS functions, but is less costly, said Patrick R. Gill, vice president of Boeing's 737 AEW&C program.

According to Gill, there will be a market for about 50 AEW&C platforms during the next decade or two, worth between $15 billion and $30 billion. The demand for new aircraft will grow because the world's AEW&C airframes are aging, Gill said. The average age is about 17 years. "So there is a substantial market for upgrades," he said.

Boeing, together with Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Thales and Quantas Airlines, won a contract to build four 737700 radar planes for Australia, under a program called Wedgetail. Northrop Grumman makes the radar, called the multi-role electronically scanned array (Mesa). BAE Systems is responsible for the electronic warfare systems.

In contrast to the 30-foot diameter rotating radar-dome antenna found in AWACS, the Wedgetail system has a "top hat" 25-by-30-foot antenna. The Mesa has a steerable electronic beam, which helps achieve uniform coverage out to 190 nautical miles, said Gill. Combined with the primary radar is an integrated identification friend-or-foe system.

The top-hat antenna is attached to the airframe with 22 bolts, said William R. Adams, vice president of airborne surveillance systems at Northrop Grumman.

In the international market, the Wedgerail-type system is "the one to beat," said Kernan Chaisson, industry analyst at Forecast International DMS, a business intelligence firm. He predicted that, during the next decade, there could be a market for 20 Mesa aircraft. That could expand, he said, if NATO decided to buy the system as a replacement for AWACS.

The Australian award is helping the Boeing team solidify its position in the marketplace, said Chaisson. The Turkish government currently is negotiating with Boeing for the purchase of up to four Wedgetail-type systems. The cost, up to $1.5 billion, could be a big hurdle for Turkey, which is undergoing an economic recession. If the Boeing bid turns our to be unacceptable, the second in line to negotiate is an AEW&C system based on an Airbus 310 jet. The Raytheon Co. is the prime contractor, and the radar is made by Israel's Elta Electronics.

In Turkey, "we still have hope to stay, said Norman W. Ray, president of Raytheon International Inc., in Brussels. "The Turks assure us that we are not out of the picture."

According to Forecast International, other potential buyers of AEW&C systems in the foreseeable future are Israel, Italy, South Korea and Spain.

For these countries, said Chaisson, "AWACS is out of the question." The cost and maintenance demands make it prohibitive, he said. …

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