Rafale’s Latest Radar Moves into Production

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Thales celebrated last week the launching of the first production model of the RBE2 AESA radar, and the validation of the new software functions, which will further enhance the capabilities of the new radar.

The announcement follows the French government approval to cleared its aerospace and defence companies to go ahead to undertake complete transfer of technology (TOT) of strategic systems for the $10 billion Indian contract for acquisition of 126 multi-role combat aircraft. Key technologies that can be transferred include AESA radars, stealth composites and advanced missiles network enabled technologies. Such a move will better position France ahead of US companies, since US manufacturers are unlikely to be granted such a sweeping approval, given the traditional tough position on technology transfer, taken by the US Congress.

Production of the RBE2 fighter radar marks an an important step toward maturation of the French Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, designed to upgrade the Rafale multi-role fighter. The radar is also an important element in the French fighter offering in key export markets, particularly India and Brazil. According to a French defence procurement agency 2006 decision on the Rafaele Roadmap, the delivery of Air Force and French Navy Rafale fighter aircraft with a new generation of sensors including the RBE2 radar will commence by 2012.

Flight testing of the new AESA radar began in 2003 and completed earlier in 2008, validating the radar’s performance in an operational configuration. The radar’s concepts were validated in 2005 followed by industrialisation phase in 2006, culminated in the beginning of production of the hardware model. Final validation of software functions is expected to end in the 1st quarter of 2010 with the delivery of AESA radars to Dassault. Full integration of the AESA RBE2 positions the Rafale as the only combat aircraft of its category equipped with active arrays for both its radar and electronic warfare suite. This outstanding system that allows a 360-degree smart antenna array coverage, is a real technological breakthrough on-board the aircraft.

Thales has been developing its own European advanced AESA radar technology since the 1990s. With its long experience in radar technology for combat aircraft and in Passive Antenna Electronic Scanning functions qualified for the Rafale’ RBE2 radar, Thales has been testing development models of the RBE2 AESA radar since 2003.