|Date: 2024-03-03 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00018603
Would the proposed A330 AWACS have been a better fit for the RAF compared to the Boeing Wedgetail?
Martin Richards, former Aerospace Systems Engineer and Ex UK Forces (1982-2010)
Answered Feb 3
I worked on the software and systems on MR2 and MR4 Maritime Nimrods - the ones used to hunt submarines coordinate search and rescue and to attack and sink ships.
These did the same role as the P3 and now the P8 replacement for which the UK paid Boeing to develop the mission system.
I also spent 5 years on the RAF AWACS Software know the people that worked on the AEW 3 Nimrod.
I also worked on the UK version of JSTARS known as ASTOR and the UK version of the Israeli Hermes 450 drone.
The Maritime Airbus idea 1st came up in the 1980s was followed a few years later by the AWACS airbus.
Military projects of this type require a hell of a lot of design maturity and a full understand of the equipments its performance AND the way it will be used BEFORE you even consider putting it in an aircraft.
This is where quite a few of the above failed in that the design was not fully mature and the users did not really understand what they wanted and how they would use it.
The result was the companies did their very best to produce a system that works as they understand it then when the customer actually started to try and use it they found that they had not actually asked for quite the right thing or than in the 5 to 8 years since a mission was made on some thing other things changed.
It is like saying to a builder build me a house in village VIL. Make it 3 bedrooms with an ensuite and a garage.
The builder then builds the house with an ensuite bathroom for the main bedroom. The buyer says actually I meant a bathroom for every bedroom.
Also nice garage that would have been good for the Honda civic I had when I asked you to build it but I now have a Hummer and a boat trailer.
Then you find it has no heating becuase you did not ask for it. You also find that the village is getting a new road network and it's going to be 4 years before they can connect mains gas becuase of that and that there is no internet service.
Ok then the customer says please fix it all to the way I want and still deliver it on time and we are not going to pay any more to do it. Oddly enough the builder and their subcontractors say sod off!
Some of the problems are the customers fault some the builder and other external things have changed.
This is the reality of large defence projects.
Ok going back to the AWACS.
The 707 and Wedgetail have a very big radar and a very big crew of Air Traffic Controllers although the RAF call them fighter controllers. Call it 10 of them and they can control all of the air traffic in a massive volume of airspace.
Now look at the US JSTARS and UK ASTOR. They have the same ground scanning radar the JSTARS is on a 707 like the AWACS with a large battle management staff. ASTOR though has a mission crew of just 3.
All of these aircraft are linked to others and have datalinks to ground units. AWACS 707 and Wedgtail and JSTARS have enough people to operate independently and be deployed work wide without ground stations.
ASTOR though having a small crew means that they can manage small engagements and give an overview but they cannot manage the entire battle space as they do not have enough people in the aircraft. The management of the entire battle space is done on or via a ground station.
Israel and Sweeden have developed small AWACS systems fitted to a business jet just the same as ASTOR. These systems work with the counties ground stations to extend there airborne surveillance area. They effectivly augment the countries ATC and military ATC from the ground via data links. Again the small mission crews can handle specific flights and have an overall picture but there are not enough people on the aircraft to do the whole job.
For countries like Israel and Sweeden that do not deploy like the UK and US do their systems are fantastic and work really well.
Now going back to the Airbus AWACS.
The concent in principle is simple take the swedish or Israel systems and place it in a converted airbus. The logical idea is to use the same aircraft the 330 as used for tankers as its already a miltary aircraft.
These are much bigger than the business jets so the concept is to effectly fit either two of the smaller systems in or basically fit one aircraft set with a bigger radar and a ground station but in the aircraft.
This would give you the number of mission crew to be able to handle a the entire airspace as per the boeing aircraft.
All you have to do is fit it to the aircraft and get it working - that's all. Simple in practice my own experience tells me with the right people from start to finish that it will take 5 years. With the wrong people call it 8 years.
The Wedgetail has been in service with the Royal Australian Air Force. They had problems and other runs as the UK has done with ASTOR and Watchkeeper. Most if not all of the issues with all three projects have been sorted to deliver the best available kit out there.
So the dission is to purchase a mature system Wedgtail that is in use by Australia and Turkey with other customers out there or to pay airbus to develop and integrate two bits of kit that in theory should work and be the 1st customer?
The answer is easy - buy the boeing !
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