See This Boring Looking Plane? Russia’s Military Needs It To Wage War

See This Boring Looking Plane? Russia’s Military Needs It To Wage War

Charlie Gao

Security,

Improving capabilities?

Key point: Despite the hype, the A-100 is unlikely to outclass its Western competitors.

While radars on fighters have been getting more and more powerful, dedicated airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft are still a necessity for most air forces to be competitive in aerial warfare. While the USAF continues to use upgraded versions of the E-3 Sentry, built on the airframe of the venerable Boeing 707, Russia is currently developing the A-100 AEW&C aircraft, which is built on the latest version of Ilyushin Il-76 military transport aircraft. However, the A-100 sports an active electronically-scanned array radar (AESA) in its rotating radome, in contrast to the E-3’s passive electronically-scanned array (PESA).

But does the new airframe provide the A-100 significant advantages of the American E-3 Sentry? How big of a deal is the AESA vs the PESA array?

Starting with the radar, the A-100 has some major theoretical advantages over the E-3 Sentry. While six revolutions per minute (RPM) has been the standard rotation rate for most AEW&C aircraft with rotating radomes (the earlier A-50, E-3 Sentry, and Japanese AEW&C all rotate at this rate), the A-100 cranks this up to twelve revolutions per minute. This allows for a faster “refresh rate” on tracking targets. Also, because the A-100 is an AESA, it has the capability to output multiple scanning beams to look for a target, while the E-3’s PESA is only limited to one.

The AESA vs. PESA capability gap is often overstated though, and the E-3 saw its own PESA radar get a major upgrade in the RSIP package around the turn of the century. But other recent AEW&C aircraft such as the E-7 “Wedgetail” feature flat, non-rotating AESA radars, so in a way, the A-100’s radar may already be behind the latest Western designs. The U.S. Air Force’s canceled next-generation AEW&C aircraft, the E-10, was said to use a variant of the Wedgetail radar.

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