Few front line military aircraft programs are at or near service entry in Europe. And those that are—such as the Rafale, Typhoon, EH-101 and Tiger—often are subject to cuts in order numbers.
But the military upgrade market is buoyant; it includes the F-16, MiG 21, MiG 29, Mirage, Su-27 and Tornado. Upgrades to military reconnaissance, trainer and transport aircraft exist as well, including the Atlantique, Nimrod and Hawk.
The current specific areas of interest in military avionics upgrades in Europe include reconnaissance systems, sensors (particularly radar and electro-optics for weapon aiming), displays, communications and navigation, computer replacement with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products, flight management systems (particularly software upgrades) and electronic warfare (radar decoys, infrared systems and counter measures).
Keeping Up with GATM
Weapons targeting requires advanced head-down, head-up and/or helmet-mounted display systems in the aircraft, as well as improved sensor/display systems.
In the future, communications and navigation upgrades will become increasingly important as air forces around the world follow the lead of the U.S. Air Force’s Global Air Traffic Management (GATM) system, the military equivalent of civil aviation’s communications, navigation, surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) system. Also, countermeasures, mainly to throw off radar or infrared missiles, is seen as a strong market in Europe. Confusing monopulse radars and improved infrared systems, therefore, will be a priority.
Stealth and its countermeasures will be a continuing consideration in design. This, of course, creates a tradeoff decision for European militaries: apply stealthiness, which generally lowers aircraft performance, or use active countermeasures to protect the aircraft.
Martin Densham of Marconi Avionics says a trend exists towards multispectral techniques in weapons systems. This requires matching, coordinated techniques in electronic warfare (EW) design compatible with the characteristics of low observables. Key technologies include electronically scanned phased arrays, low observable conformal antennas, optical transmission and processing, reconfigurable COTS hardware using integrated modular avionics (IMA) techniques, and multisensor data fusion.
Computer processing power and memory capability double every 18 months. But display technology advancement has not been so rapid. Even advanced cockpits such as in the Typhoon (formerly Eurofighter) still provide a "periscopic" view of the world.
Next generation sensors coupled with vastly improved communications will lead to an explosion of data into the cockpit, say experts. Advanced computers will be able to fuse data and create images referenced to the real world. The ergonomist’s job is to present the information in a natural, intuitive way.
The combat pilot’s need is for situational awareness in two forms: global and tactical. Global situational awareness involves understanding your position within the total battle space. In turn, this extremely complex and ever-changing situation calls for input from many information sources, including radar, EW and joint tactical information distribution system (JTIDS).
M.L. Lukes of the Smiths Industries predicts this will lead to a "big picture" head-down display occupying 300 square inches (1,935 cm2) of panel area (equivalent to eight Eurofighter displays). The image must be of high resolution and full color with day/night capability, Lukes says. The display must be fault tolerant, capable of surviving single and limited multipoint failures.
Tactical situation awareness requires an understanding of the local environment to allow an air-to-air or air-to-ground attack—or to fight in combat. Such a fast-moving situation requires extremely quick, intuitive reactions from the pilot.
One solution, as found on the Tiger attack helicopter and other aircraft, is a wide field-of-view (in excess of 60ï¿½) helmet-mounted display that provides combat and flight information. Sensors (including for night flying) and weapons are slaved to the pilot’s line of sight.
Paul Holbourn of Marconi Avionics thinks that the introduction of ESA (electronically scanned phased array) technology will allow the radar function with the EW function and possibly the CNI (communication/navigation/identification) function to merge. This would be integrated in a radio frequency (RF) sensor based on IMA principles.
"The unrivalled all-weather performance of radar, the inherent measurement flexibility and the latent capacity for covert operation will ensure that radar will remain the primary sensor for current and future tactical aircraft," Holbourn declares.
J.K. Sheard and G.A. Wilkinson of BAE add that current inertial navigation/Global Positioning (INS/GPS) systems are being developed to incorporate additional elements, digital terrain systems being the prime example. There is increasingly close coupling between inertial, GPS and terrain referenced navigation.