The principal feature of the Advanced Frontline Aviation Complex aviation - the fifth generation T-50 fighter created by the Sukhoi company is the use of a multifunctional integrated radio-electronic system with active phased antenna arrays (AFAR) as part of its airborne equipment, which is designed to solve a wide range of problems of search and detection of air and ground targets, ensuring application weapons, navigation, mapping, electronic countermeasures, etc. This system with AFAR develops NIIP them. V.V. Tikhomirova is the leading domestic enterprise for the creation of radar systems with phased antenna arrays for aviation and military air defense systems. Experienced AFAR for the PAK FA Institute has already demonstrated at previous air shows MAKS. Since then, work on them has progressed substantially. On the eve of MAKS-2015, we met with the Director General of the NIIP. V.V. Yury Belym Tikhomirov and asked him to tell how the AFAR is tested on the fifth-generation Russian fighter, what results have already been achieved and what new we can see at the current exhibition.
Yury Ivanovich, what are you planning to show what's new at the MAKS-2015 air show?
At previous exhibitions of MAKS we have already demonstrated experimental and experimental samples of AFAR for PAK FA - in 2009 we first showed AFAR of X-band front view, in 2013, side-end AFAR (BO), and earlier - wing AFAR L-band. So far, we have presented them separately, and now it has been decided to show the entire PAK FA antenna system, in combination, approximately as it will be installed on the aircraft. Secondly, we are not standing still, and over the past years, the work on AFAR has advanced significantly: we have updated design documentation, AFAR of both front and side view became lighter, their equipment is more compact, and the potential is higher. These are the advanced AFAR, made by more advanced technology, we will show this time on MAKS-2015.
This improved technology is the result of several years of bench testing and flight tests. For three years our AFAR has been flying aboard the PAK FA. I note here that for the entire time of the flight tests there were not any significant failures of our equipment, the characteristics of AFAR do not degrade - when during the tests we are given the opportunity to remove it from the aircraft, check on the stand, compare it with the original condition and see that the parameters remain normal. Therefore, there is confidence that we are on the right track, and the fifth generation fighter with our AFAR, when it enters into service with the domestic Air Force, will meet all the requirements for it.
Please tell us about the preliminary test results?
The first flight of a prototype PAK FA (third flight specimen) with the inclusion of our AFAR forward review took place at Zhukovsky 26 on April 2012. In the summer of the same year, we began intensive flight tests of AFAR on board the aircraft. By now, the stage of preliminary tests has already been passed, and in April of this year we presented AFAR PO for state joint tests as part of the aircraft.
I can say that during the preliminary flight tests almost all of the specified characteristics in the main air – air and air – surface modes have already been confirmed, now we are starting to mate with the weapon and will check the interaction of AFAR with weapons. In Akhtubinsk, two airplanes are currently under test - the third and fourth flight copies of the T-50, both of which are undergoing tests of our AFAR. At the same time, as we predicted on the basis of bench tests, the potential of AFAR on the fourth aircraft increased, compared with the third, on the fifth it will be even higher. We consistently increase the characteristics of our equipment to the requirements of the specification.
Separately, I would like to note the reliability of the AFAR. It is no secret that in the early stages of development we were faced with the fact that part of the transceiver modules supplied to us had to be rejected - this is a natural process for such an innovative technology in the initial period of its development. Today I can state with satisfaction that the level of reliability of MRP has dramatically improved. If at the first AFAR, at the stages of assembly and testing, we had to sort out the antenna several times, replacing the faulty modules, then the AFAR manufactured today is almost without failure.
Let me remind you that in actual operation of the AESA, the failure of approximately up to 10% of its modules, especially if they are scattered around the antenna web, has practically no effect on its characteristics. And today we practically fit into these tolerances. But even at our first AFAR, in which the level of health of the microwave modules was lower, we practically didn’t repair, but focused specifically on testing, which we didn’t have before, when working with our previous radars (then, at first, we had to deal more with failures than, in fact, lead the test). This is another important advantage of active phased antenna arrays.
AFAR shows a very good test on flight tests. On the third flight of the PAK FA today performed about 120 flight with a working AFAR software, and such failures that the machine came from a flight with an unfulfilled task - literally units. In accordance with the approved test program, the fourth prototype of the AFAR has been flying a little less (he has, so far, other tasks, first of all), but those flights with the station turned on are basically all successful.
How many have already made AFAR?
The first two AFARs of the forward review pass bench tests: one at the stand of the chief designer at our institute, the other at the Sukhoi Design Bureau. They are working out new modes, introducing constructive and software improvements. Two are now flying aboard the third and fourth prototypes of the T-50. This summer, in Komsomolsken-Amur, the fifth prototype will be put to the test after the repair, and it is also already equipped with our AFAR. The sixth antenna has passed preliminary laboratory tests, both autonomously and as part of a complex, and will soon be presented for ground inter-agency tests that will be conducted at the NIIP. The next one went to the sixth flight model of the aircraft, which should join the tests before the end of this year. It will already have a complete set of our system, including both a front-view AFAR, and side and wing. At the output from the production of two regular antennas (one is already on the test bench, the second is on the assembly), and the production of two more leads the serial enterprise - Ryazan State Instrument Plant. Recently, I was in Ryazan and noted with satisfaction that the first AFAR assembled there already stands on the stand and is successfully setting up and testing. These are two prototypes of the antenna, which are assembled at the GRPP and then will go on board the next aircraft, will become a kind of prologue for the planned mass production of AFAR in Ryazan.
Can you, at least qualitatively, compare the AFAR with your already known BARS and Irbis HEADLIGHTS, used on Su-30 and Su-35 series fighters?
While we fly with AFAR on those modes that have already been implemented at our previous stations, and it shows itself in terms of performance is no worse, and in terms of reliability (compared to the similar stage of the development of LAMP), it is much better. But AFAR has a lot of regimes that can not be implemented on traditional phased arrays and which will give the aircraft, as an aviation combat complex, fundamentally new opportunities. Their working out is still ahead. At the same time, it is well known that our “Irbis” can rightly be considered as a kind of apex of the development of radar technology with PAR - there are no equal in the world in terms of the potential and detection range of air targets exceeding 400 km. Recently, we have prepared materials in which we showed how to increase the potential of AFAR, bringing it closer to what Irbis has. It is up to the customer, because it requires a transition to new technologies, new materials, new element base. They have yet to be mastered by our industry, and these are quite substantial costs, both financial and temporary. But this must be done, especially in the conditions of the current policy of import substitution.
By the way, since we are talking about import substitution, how strong is your dependence on supplies from abroad? Did Western sanctions affect your work?
We practically do not feel sanctions. Microwave modules - the basis of our radar - we have domestic, the raw materials for their production is available, and the rest of the electronic "stuffing" - so to speak, widespread use, so some special problems, I do not see. Of course, ideally, I would like everything to be “ours”. But the domestic industry, which is able to supply us with the necessary raw materials and element base, was actually destroyed in the post-Soviet years and is now at the restoration stage, which will take some time. And so far, much of what our manufacturer can actually offer us turns out to be noticeably more expensive than imports from the same Southeast Asia, and the delivery times are called much longer. I hope that in a few years the situation will change, and we will be able to switch to a competitive domestic element base. But now, I repeat, we do not see any particular problems and do not feel that the sanctions somehow seriously affected our work.
How will your complexes with AFAR develop further?
It is not a secret that our institute is defined as the head contractor of work on the complex of on-board electronic equipment with AFAR for the Advanced Aviation Complex of Long-Range Aviation - PAK DA. Now we are working closely on the preliminary design of the complex for the PAK DA, we offer various options for AFAR. Before the end of the year, a draft technical design must be defended, both in our unit and in the aircraft as a whole. Based on the results of this protection, a decision will be made on the dates and stages of the full-scale development work. Recently, Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said that PAK DA should go into the series "soon after 2023." But, despite the fact that until this period is almost ten years, the pace of work on OCD cannot be reduced. It is necessary not to delay the transition to the stages of production of working design documentation, construction of prototypes, their testing. After all, before adopting a system, there must be a tremendous amount of mining and testing.
When developing a complex for PAK DA, of course, we will use all the experience that we received when creating AFAR for PAK FA. But we need to clearly understand that the foundation for the current AFAR we began to create 13 years ago, and to apply in a pure form the existing technology and technical solutions for the complex, which is to enter service only in the middle of the next decade, is unwise. Therefore, we will use all the experience we have, the entire scientific and technical groundwork for AFAR for the PAK FA, but the complex for the PAK DA should be more perfect - both in terms of design solutions and the element base. Then we will apply similar improvements to the modernization of the PAK FA complex - in this way, we will ensure the “flow” of the very best and progressive from one project to another. Thereby, we’ll work for the PAK DA, and then it will be implemented in the envisaged modernization of the PAK FA.