Naval Air: P-3s Get Sharper Vision


May 31, 2007: At least five American P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft have been equipped with Littoral Surveillance Radar Systems (LSRS). This is a wide-aperture active electronically scanned array (AESA) type radar that enables the aircraft to track vehicles on land, and ships at sea. Such high resolution radars are already installed in JSTARS aircraft, Global Hawk UAVs and many fighters. Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar consists of thousands of tiny radars that can be independently aimed in different directions. An AESA radar was used on the JSTARS aircraft, enabling it to locate vehicles moving on the ground. A new AESA radar for JSTARS enables them to spot smaller, man sized, objects. AESA type radars have been around a long time, popular mainly for their ability deal with lots of targets simultaneously, and produce a more accurate picture of what is out there.

The P-3 has been used more frequently to support ground operations, and AESA is great for this. But at sea, AESA could also be used to keep track of ship size targets for American anti-ship missiles fired from over the horizon.

A sufficiently powerful AESA radar can also focus enough energy to damage aircraft or missiles. The U.S. has already been doing this with the high-powered microwave (HPM) effects generated by similar AESA radars used in F18, F35 and F22 aircraft. This is sort of like the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) put out by nuclear weapons. AESA has demonstrated that it can disable missiles and aircraft. AESA in a Global Hawk could disable electronics on the ground.

The air force had planned to install a larger AESA radar on its new E-10 radar aircraft, that would be able to zap cruise missile guidance systems up to 180 kilometers away. The E-10 has been cancelled, but there are now plans to install its AESA radar on existing JSTARS. The E-10 AESA is several times larger than the ones found in fighters, P-3s and the Global Hawk, so make your own range estimates.




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