January 13, 2006 The flight test programme for the U.K. Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) programme is progressing well in the U.S. and the U.K. As of December, 2005, a/c #1 (based in Greenville, Texas) was well into its series of check flights while, in the U.K., a/c #2 had completed its first phase of flight testing. According to the test team, the DMR in a/c #1 was producing good quality imagery on only its second operational check flight. ASTOR is a ground surveillance system designed to provide information regarding the deployment and movement of enemy forces. It uses state-of-the-art radar technology to obtain high resolution imagery of static features and can also identify and track moving vehicles. Imagery gathered is transmitted in near-real-time to a network of distributed Ground Stations deployed with front-line forces. Images can be displayed and analysed within the Ground Stations, ensuring that tactical commanders are aware of the latest developments on the ground. ASTOR will be a brand new capability for the UK Armed Forces and the most advanced system of its kind, anywhere in the world, when it enters service. It will be a vital force multiplier in the modern conflict where speed of battle is such that up-to-date information is crucial if troops are to be deployed effectively.
The ASTOR system will provide a 24-hour, all-weather, battlefield surveillance capability. The aircraft is to be based on the Bombardier Global Express, a modern, class-leading, large business jet. It will be able to operate above 40,000 ft and have an endurance in excess of nine hours. The aircraft will be able to operate successfully at a safe "Stand-off" distance behind the forward-edge-of-battle, greatly reducing the risk of loss to enemy action. It gives both an image of the ground, showing features such as buildings and bridges, and an indicator of convoys and individual vehicles on the move.
ASTOR will be able to interface with the proposed military communications architecture and to be interoperable with other NATO forces.
In the December tests, uccessful system connectivity was demonstrated on the first attempt with virtual end-to-end data flow demonstrated from the aircraft to the ground station in near real-time. Hand in hand with the radar and system testing regime, software release-vetting continues with additional image-manipulation features enabled such as pan and zoom controls.
Justin Monger, U.S. ASTOR programme manager, said, "We are well into the flight test programme and making very good progress, especially regarding the radar and its imaging quality. The ASTOR integration and test programme is proving out the revolutionary capabilities of this system and securing its role in network enabled coalition operations - from SAR and GMTI, connectivity with air to ground and interoperability with systems like Joint STARS."
Separate from aircraft testing of the Sentinel Mk.1, ground segment elements have now completed environmental testing and are in the midst of speed and mobility tests in the U.K.
When it enters service, the MoD's ASTOR system will be the most advanced of its type in the world. The complete system will include five Sentinel R Mk I aircraft, each equipped with dual-mode (SAR and Moving Target Indicator) radar and operator workstations where the mission management and imagery can be exploited and then transmitted to the various brigade and divisional/joint level ASTOR ground stations by datalink. The system operates in near real time to give battlefield commanders rapid access to highly accurate information about what is happening in their area of interest.