France has begun producing AESA radars for its next batch of 60 Rafale
fighters, which will be entering service in two years. The AESA radars already
installed in U.S. aircraft cost over two million dollars each.
AESA is much
more capable than older radars. The multiple radar elements (mini-dishes) can
simultaneously do different jobs, making it easier for an aircraft to handle
tracking multiple aircraft, controlling missiles and performing electronic
warfare tasks. For example, AESA is able to jam frequency hopping radios, which
defeat jamming and being overheard by sending messages over a quickly changing,
pre-arranged, set of different frequencies. AESA, by assigning each element a
different frequency, you can shut down all, or enough, of the frequencies being
used by the radio to jam it. Using the same technique, AESA can also capture
what is actually being transmitted by a frequency hopping radio. These
electronic warfare capabilities make AESA more than a radar, of course, and
that's why pilots want it. The only problem is that it is very expensive to
equip all aircraft with AESA. But as the price of the radar elements continues
to come down, AESA will become more common. Future electronics warfare aircraft
are expected to use AESA, no matter what the cost.
are used on the U.S. Global Hawk UAV, and some models of the F-15 and F-18
fighters, and on the F-22 and F-35 fighters. China's new J10A fighter is also
using an AESA radar.