Electronic Weapons: Big Eyes In A Business Jet

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July 30, 2012: Italy is buying two Israeli AWACS (Airborne Early Warning Aircraft) for $375 million each. This is part of the offset for the recent Israeli purchase of $993 million worth of jet trainers. Israel also calls this aircraft CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning).

It was four years ago that Israel introduced this new AWACS design, that uses a long range business jet (the 40 ton Gulfstream G550) and Israeli made radar and electronics. The Israeli Air Force bought the CAEW AWACs four years ago and now has three. Israel had already sold the AWACS electronics to India, for installation in four Russian Il-50/76 aircraft.

The CAEW AWACS carries a Phalcon conformal (it is built into the lower fuselage) phased array radar, SIGINT equipment (to capture and analyze enemy electronic transmissions), and a communications system that can handle satellite signals as well as a wide array of other transmissions. There are six personnel on board to handle all this gear, plus the flight crew. The Gulfstream G550 used for this can stay in the air for over ten hours per sortie and can fly at up to 13,200 meters (41,000 feet).

The G550 is a larger version of the Gulfstream G400, which the U.S. Army uses as the C-20H transport. The U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force, and Navy also use militarized Gulfstreams (usually as C-37Vs). The 30 meter (96 foot) long aircraft has two engines and was built for long flights (over 11,000 kilometers). Current Gulfstream G550s cost about $40 million each.

The Phalcon radar is, in some respects, superior to the one used in the American AWACS. For example, Phalcon uses a phased array radar (thousands of small radar transmitters are fitted underneath the aircraft). The phased array radar, in combination with the latest, most powerful computers and other antennas for picking up a variety of signals, enables Phalcon to be more aware of what electronic equipment (airborne or on the ground) is operating up to 400 kilometers away. The phased array radar allows positions of aircraft on operator screens to be updated every 2-4 seconds, rather than every 20-40 seconds as is the case on the United States AWACS (which uses a rotating radar in a radome atop the aircraft). The first Phalcon system was fitted on a Boeing 707, although somewhat limited versions could be put onto a C-130. On a larger aircraft you can have more computers, and other electronics, as well as more human operators. But the major advantage of the Phalcon is that it is a more modern design. The U.S. AWACS is over twenty years old and has undergone upgrades to the original equipment. The Israeli air force operates six Phalcon aircraft (using Boeing 707 airframes).

 


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