Airborne radar includes three major categories: air-target surveillance and cueing radars mounted in rotodomes, nose-mounted fighter radars and side-looking radars for ground reconnaissance and surveillance. The latter is the smallest sector of the airborne radar market and is dominated by SAR (synthetic aperture radar) and GMTI (ground moving target indicator) sensors.
SAR, an active all-weather sensor, primarily is used for two-dimensional ground mapping. Radar images of an area help detect fixed targets. GMTI radar picks up moving targets or vehicles.
Raytheon Co., a leading U.S. airborne radar provider for the U.S. military, has had a tough time selling its commercial SAR-GMTI technology internationally, to civilian customers, said David Rockwell, senior analyst at the Teal Group, a business intelligence firm in Fairfax, Va. Raytheon makes several imaging and surveillance radar systems for U.S. military platforms, such as the radar for the U-2 spy plane and the APS-137 maritime surveillance radar for the U.S. Navy's P-3 aircraft.
In recent years, it began marketing a commercial version of its SAR-GMTI, called HiSAR, an X-band radar that can see from about 60 miles away. The company also is marketing a commercial derivative of the APS-137, called the SeaVue. SeaVue is sold to Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan and Italy.
The target customers for HiSAR, said Raytheon officials, are governments or commercial organizations with a budget of between $10 million and $30 million, for each system. Applications for airborne SAR-GMTI include detection of oil spills in the ocean, ice movement, changes in deforestation patterns, border surveillance and maritime patrol.
The HiSAR technology is about 10 years old, but Raytheon only started marketing it internationally four years ago. "Sales have not been huge," said Rockwell. "The market is moving along at a slow rate. It's been questionable for several years. [Raytheon] could make some major sales but they haven't yet." The company inherited the HiSAR technology from Hughes Corp., which was acquired by Raytheon.
It has been hard for the international non-U.S. markets to accept SAR, said Jorge L. Ramirez Jr., manager of business development at Raytheon Electronic Systems.
The reasons, he said, are "costs and lack of understanding." The technology has been around for 50 years and still, "many don't understand the benefits of SAR-MTI technology," Ramirez said. Unlike photographs or video, SAR images are not intuitive, meaning that only trained operators can understand them and interpret them.
According to Rockwell, the obvious target market for airborne SAR-GMTI is military customers, rather than civilians. In the military sector, Joint STARS is "the 800-pound gorilla" among airborne SAR systems. Joint STARS is a U.S. Air Force high-performance ground surveillance system mounted on a Boeing 707 jet. The prime contractor is Northrop Grumman Corp.
The Teal Group estimated that annual sales of airborne SAR systems worldwide will remain steady at about $600 million.
"Whether HiSAR will develop a commercial market is a bigger question," said Rockwell. "There is certainly a military market."
HiSAR has been installed in the U.S. Army's RC-7B reconnaissance aircraft and the Beech King Air. A HiSAR derivative was developed for the Air Force Global Hawk UAV.
According to Raytheon officials, HiSAR is much less sophisticated than the $300 million Astor aerial surveillance system that the company is developing for the United Kingdom, under a $1.2 billion contract. Astor has a much higher resolution and other advanced features, which are classified.
In the global market for SAR, there is no dominant prime today, said Rockwell. He is not sure which company would be in a position to take that role. Raytheon faces tough competition from European and Israeli firms. In the United States, it competes against Telephonics Corp. for military airborne SAR business. Telephonics' future market share of airborne SAR largely is tied to the U.S. Navy's SH-60R helicopter. If the Navy does not buy as many helicopters as planned, "then Telephonics is not very well placed to rival Raytheon," said Rockwell.
A Telephonics spokesman said the company does not plan to develop commercial SAR-GMTI systems for international sales.
Northrop Grumman's role in airborne SAR is limited to Joint STARS, for the most part, said Rockwell. NATO is considering buying a new airborne ground-surveillance aircraft. One of the bids for that system includes a radar jointly developed by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
During the 2001 Paris Air Show, Raytheon marketed the HiSAR on two fronts. It kicked off the so-called HiSAR Institute, a seminar designed to teach potential customers about the benefits of SAR-GMTI. And it also introduced a HiSAR 2K system, which has longer range and higher resolution than the baseline system.
Justin C. Monger, manager of business development at Raytheon, said the company estimated that there is an international HiSAR market worth about $1 billion over five years, not including platforms. "Half our customers have their own platforms. We also provide used platforms," said Monger.
Last year, he said, Raytheon sold 10 systems, worth about $200 million, to international customers. "They were commercial sales, but we are not allowed to reveal the buyers or they threatened to cancel the contracts." In today's market, he said, 10 systems is a huge number.
"I agree with Raytheon that there should be a market for this technology," said Rockwell. "But it hasn't really panned out in the last five years. It could still be there, but they may not make it for five or 10 years." HiSAR is a pricey system, he said.
"Even at $10 million-$30 million, these systems are still too expensive for commercial users," he said.
For $11 million, Monger said, his company can provide the radar, the airplane, a ground station, training, spares and a logistics package. "That is how we are going to break into the market," he said.
The HiSAR 2K system has as 1-meter image resolution, which is detailed enough to be able to classify vehicles on the ground, Monger said. The baseline HiSAR resolution is 6 meters.
A SAR image of oil tanks in the ocean, for example, can be used to determine whether oil supplies are decreasing over time.
A HiSAR 2K radar can operate in two different modes. At 1-meter resolution, it has a range of more than 120 miles, but can only cover a narrow field of view. At a coarser resolution—8 meters—it can cover a broader area, about 35 miles wide.
For border surveillance, a SAR aircraft typically would fly at an altitude of 25,000-30,000 feet and from about 40 miles away.
It took several years to develop HiSAR 2K, said Monger. "We steal from other programs within Raytheon." In the future, he said, "We have new modes coming out that we have not announced yet, because they are not ready."
The system has an 80 percent probability of detection. Targets are not detectable when they are positioned parallel to the radar, Monger explained. "You need to line up your mission plan, so you are not parallel to your roads."
Improving the performance beyond 80 percent is not an option for Raytheon at this time, because the technology to do that is not licensed for non-U.S. sales, he said.
For other surveillance applications, radar can be mounted on aerostats, said Monger. "We believe that there is a market for aerostat systems," he said. For missions such as early warning, which requires around-the-clock surveillance, aerostats are suitable platforms, he added. The caveat, however, is that aerostats only should operate in a "low threat environment" and in areas where the winds don't exceed 100 knots. "It's a niche within the surveillance market," said Monger. There are 12 aerostat systems along the U.S. Southern border (between New Mexico and Florida) watching airborne drug runners coming in from the South, he noted.
Raytheon built an early-warning aerostat, funded by the U.S. Army, for cruise-missile defense. The aerostat is tethered to the ground. A fiber optic link sends the data down to the ground station for processing. The company is working on a mobile mooring ground station, on wheels, for possible military use.