Old new radar
In June, Airbus was awarded a contract to install 110 Captor-E active phased array (AFAR) radars on the Eurofighter Typhoon of the German Air Force and five radars of this type on the Spanish Typhoons. In the latter case, we are talking about the initial batch of the radar. The work under the contract must be completed in 2023.
Some Western media outlets called the Captor-E “the most advanced radar for fighters.” Several sources say it is capable of detecting a fighter-type target at a range of approximately 270 kilometers. In principle, this is comparable to (or even more) the American F-22 radar, which has a target detection range with an effective scattering area of one square meter in the region of 240 kilometers.
But what about full-fledged stealth, which have even better this indicator? Earlier, a senior radar specialist from the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) said the Captor-E is capable of detecting F-35s at a distance of approximately 59 kilometers. If this is true, the indicator is quite decent.
However, there is one “but”, and it does not directly relate to the characteristics of the new product. Captor-E is an incredible long-term construction. The first flight of the Eurofighter Typhoon with the new radar was performed back in … 2007. And until now, the German Air Force combat vehicles have Captor-M multi-mode pulse-Doppler radars. Recall that the fighter itself was adopted back in 2003: at that time, Captor-M, although it was not in the top, was considered quite modern. Time passed, technologies changed. Not surprisingly, in a 2019 interview with the Flug Revue newspaper, Luftwaffe Lieutenant General Ingo Gerharz noted that Germany is lagging behind other countries in modernizing its combat aircraft. It was about radar stations. The fact that Panavia Tornado aircraft (which are also actively operated by the Luftwaffe) are outdated, and so it is clear to everyone for a long time.
And what about other European countries?
For obvious reasons, we will not compare the capabilities of the Eurofighter operators with the capabilities of the US Air Force or Navy. Suffice it to say that the Americans have already built more than half a thousand F-35s alone, and in addition to it, there are radars with AFAR, in particular, on the Raptor and the F / A-18E / F Super Hornet. However, it makes sense to compare the state of the German air force and the air force of other European countries.
France. The fate of the direct competitor of the Eurofighter Typhoon, the French fighter Dassault Rafale, was indicative. Back in 2012, at the Dassault Aviation airfield in Mérignac, the first serial fighter Dassault Rafale built for the French Air Force, equipped with an airborne radar station with AFAR Thales RBE2-AESA, performed its maiden flight.
The target detection range of this type of radar is about 200 kilometers. It is not entirely clear, however, which ones. In general, it is difficult to compare radar stations. Obviously, the Captor-E has large dimensions, and also, according to data from open sources, is equipped with a large number of transceiver modules: about 1000 versus 1200-1500 for the Captor-E radar. Typhoon already surpassed its French counterpart in flight performance, and in the future it will be ahead in terms of radar. So far, however, the French are generally ahead of the Germans.
Great Britain. Another European state with a very impressive fleet of winged aircraft. The UK operates over 150 Typhoons and relies heavily on these fighters. As a reminder, back in 2012, the British Air Force completed the modernization of the 43 Eurofighter Typhoon to the Block 5 version. The aircraft were equipped with infrared sensors, as well as advanced systems for engaging air and ground targets.
It is not entirely clear how the Captor-E radar equipment program will develop after the UK left the European Union. However, this will not affect the country’s defense capability: at least not now. As a reminder, back in 2018, the first four British F-35Bs arrived in Foggy Albion. The plans for the purchase of these machines may be adjusted, but now the British expect to receive 138 F-35s from their overseas partner, that is, the UK will not have to think about updating the aircraft fleet for a long time.
Russia. The situation with the German Eurofighter Typhoon resembles what is happening in the Russian Federation. Russia has long wanted to have a fighter with a radar with AFAR in service, but as of today, the aerospace forces probably do not have a single such machine. The presence of a radar with an active phased array antenna for the MiG-35 in the version for the Russian Aerospace Forces has not been confirmed, and the first serial Su-57 crashed during tests in December last year.
De facto, the most advanced in this regard can be considered the Su-35S, which has a passive phased array radar (PFAR) “N035 Irbis”. Again, we do not undertake to make bold statements, however, with a high degree of probability, it is inferior in terms of the sum of Captor-E’s qualities. It is pointless to judge the capabilities of the Su-57 radar station at the moment: so far, there is not a single such machine in the ranks.
It’s not that bad
As you can see, there is a significant lag of the German Eurofighter Typhoon (and therefore the entire Luftwaffe) from the fighters of the most powerful European countries in terms of avionics. France and the UK already have fighters equipped with AFAR radars, while Russia operates many new Su-35S and Su-30SMs equipped with N035 Irbis and N0011M Bars radars with PFAR, respectively.
Still, the German Typhoons are not obsolete. The aircraft boasts excellent flight performance, reduced radar signature (although it is not a full-fledged stealth), and ample modernization capabilities. The fighter is well armed. Earlier, Germany ordered a long-range air-to-air missile MBDA Meteor, which has an active radar homing head and a ramjet engine that allows the missile to maintain its high flight speed until the enemy is defeated.
To defeat ground targets, Luftwaffe fighters will be able to use the latest Brimstone missile, also equipped with an active radar seeker, which allows it to hit moving targets with great accuracy. Moreover, one Typhoon is capable of taking up to eighteen such products: the mass of the rocket is only 50 kilograms.
Thus, the installation of the Captor-E radar will complete the transformation of the German Typhoon into a fighter that meets all the requirements of the current time, except perhaps for stealth indicators.