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Leonardo’s new Electronics Division established in December 2018 unites all the activities and products of the three previously separated entities Land & Naval Defence Electronics, Airborne & Space Systems and Defence Systems divisions.

Leonardo’s facility in Nerviano near Milan (Italy) and part of the company’s Electronics Division, has further developed its GRIFO and GABBIANO radar families as well as the IRST (InfraRed Search and Tracking) products portfolio, looking to new solutions for airborne and naval applications.

Leonardo plans to begin flight trials of its new GRIFO-E lightweight multimode airborne fire control system before the end of 2019, with production standard equipment ready for delivery from the early 2020s on. Being the latest generation of the GRIFO X-band radar family, the E-version is a step change through the introduction of a gallium nitride (GaN)-based active electronically scanned array (AESA) antenna provided by its UK sister facility in Edinburgh, together with a new integrated multi-channel receiver exciter processor (REP) architecture able to exploit software-based radar modes. Leonardo’s Nerviano unit is taking the overall system responsibility and develops the integrated radar ‘back end’. The GRIFO-E is aimed at the lightweight fighter/attack aircraft market, for either new-build or retrofit programmes but also for third- and fourth-generation combat aircraft used by private contractors for ‘aggressor’ training.

Leonardo has sold more than 450 examples of the mechanically scanned GRIFO radar in a number of versions. The first model, the GRIFO-F, found its launching customer in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (F-5 fleet modernisation by Elbit) followed by the Pakistan Air Force (the F-7, F-7PG and the MIRAGE III/EA fleets) and the Czech Republic Air Force for the Aero Vodochody L-159 light attack aircraft. Some of these aircraft have since been sold to the Iraqi Air Force and to flight services contractor Draken International, maintaining the Leonardo radar. The GRIFO-F/BR variant was selected in 2001 as part of the Brazilian Air Force’s F-5BR avionics upgrade which also saw the first integration of Rafael’s DERBY beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missile. In 2014, a Far Eastern customer reportedly being the Royal Thai Air Force bought the new ‘intermediate wideband configuration’ of GRIFO-F for its F-5 SUPER TIGER upgrade. This build standard incorporates improved mode performance, high-resolution radar capabilities, a new signal processing architecture, a wideband receiver, and engineering changes to remove obsolescence and improve reliability. The company also conducted installation studies of a GRIFO-tailored version for its M-346 fighter/attack aircraft version. “The GRIFO-346 comes with a slightly larger antenna, which optimises the performance of this version,” said Federico Scannapieco, Senior Vice President Radar and Advanced Targeting. Leonardo has completed development of the dedicated flat-plate antenna ahead of integration and flight testing. “The exact schedule could be influenced by customers, but hopefully this will be in the second half of 2019”, Scannapieco said.

Based on market research, Leonardo launched the development of a new processor/receiver architecture designed to interface with an AESA antenna, which finally became the GRIFO-E version. The later comprises three-line replaceable units: the integrated multi-channel REP, which is similar in size to the previous processor hardware while providing the capability to process eight parallel receive channels; a fixed flat plate AESA antenna, containing approximately 600 GaN transmit/receive modules; and the power supply unit for an overall 100 kg radar suite which is only 10% heavier than the previous version. As the AESA antenna requires liquid cooling, Leonardo offers a liquid cooling unit. “The multi-channel architecture allows having very accurate rejection of jamming interference and clutter, and a very high capability to detect small slow-moving targets”.

Since Leonardo has an AESA radar capability in the UK, the Group decided to integrate an antenna unit jointly designed by Nerviano and Edinburgh (UK), which is being developed and manufactured in Edinburgh’s Crewe Toll facility. The AESA antenna use of GaN-based transmit/receive modules is a new thing for Leonardo; it enables smaller platforms to exploit the advantages afforded by AESA techniques and its significantly wider bandwidth. While GRIFO-E will incorporate some new operating modes, much of the radar software is being pulled through from the existing mechanical-scan (m-scan) radar family. All existing modes of the m-scan radar were implemented and improved in the electronic scan (e-scan), taking advantage of the new architecture. The AESA offers much more flexibility to the pilot.

The GRIFO-E was formally launched at the Farnborough International Airshow in July 2018. “We will have the first AESA antenna by July 2019, and the receiver/exciter/processor unit will be ready during the second half of the year”, Scannapieco said. Integration and safety of flight verification is scheduled for the second half of 2019, enabling performance verification to start later that year.

It is expected that the completion of qualification and the start of series production will be made dependent on potential launch customers. “Leonardo is already engaged in proposals based on the M-346, as well as a couple of other platforms while we also pursue a potential smaller antenna application,” said Scannapieco. The new radar has the provision to integrate a BVR missile as well as a ‘repositioner’ and exploit electronic attack capabilities, but as of today, Leonardo offers a fixed AESA antenna.

Leonardo estimates that 60% of the potential market for GRIFO-E is in the retrofit sector. A significant part of this is likely to come from the growing number of fast jet ‘aggressor’ fleets operated by contractors, which are a difficult market due to the tight delivery schedule.

Leonardo is introducing a solid-state transmitter upgrade for the existing mechanically scanned GRIFO-F radar, as the e-scan version costs 50% more and needs platform modifications due to the required power and cooling. Development of the solid-state GRIFO m-scan radar is expected to be completed in 2020. “According to our roadmap, there will be only one “backend” based on the integrated architecture of the new generation and one “frontend” based on m-scan or e-scan”, Scannapieco said.

The GABBIANO Ultra-Light Radar

Market demands for radar on unmanned platforms made Leonardo develop the ultra-light version of the X-band GABBIANO family; it is based on two elements including a 12’ diameter state-of-the-art antenna and a multifunctional unit with a 20-Watt average power solid-state transmitter of reduced dimensions (44.6x29x22 cm) for a total weight of 24 kg. High resolution modes (Spot SAR and Strip SAR) grant a submeter resolution while the GMTI mode allows detection of moving targets on ground and sea which, coupled with ISAR mode, allow the system to classify the observed target. The radar also features air-to-air modes and a unique terrain avoidance mode. The ultra-light version also has extremely reduced power consumption, making it one of the few, if not the only, small and light radar system with conventional antenna on the market, Leonardo claims.
The version is designed to perform the same range of missions as larger GABBIANO versions, with very similar performance. The ultra-light version equips the Leonardo AWHERO’s 205 kg maximum-weight rotary-wing platform, together with an Automatic Identification System (AIS) and EO/IR turret, as well as the same group’s FALCO EVO being used by the Frontex border protection agency under a service contract for maritime surveillance. The ultra-light GABBIANO was also tested on a SKYSPOTTER UAS as well as completed feasibility integration studies on UMS SKELDAR V-200, Schiebel CAMCOPTER S-100, HERMES 90 and other unmanned platforms.


Based on the PIRATE (Passive InfraRed Airborne Tracking Equipment) IRST (InfraRed Search & Tracking) experience for the Eurofighter TYPHOON within the Eurofirst consortium led by Leonardo with the participation of Thales UK and the Spanish company Tecnobit, Leonardo has developed its own SKYWARD proprietary product, which was commissioned in 2010 to equip the Saab GRIPEN E-fighter aircraft. “SKYWARD was developed to satisfy the 5th generation fighter requirements with a system operating in the long-wave (8-12 micron, or optionally mid-wave, 3-5 micron) band and a configuration including a sensor head unit (SHU) and the data processing unit for a total weight of 40 kg”, said Leonardo’s VP IRST Programmes Giorgio Balzarotti. SKYWARD-G can detect and track hostile targets, including aircraft, ships and vehicles; it also features a counter stealth capability which allows detecting and tracking very-low radar signature targets both alone and together with other on-board passive sensors in a fully integrated way. The system is able to detect the aerodynamics heating of the aircraft surfaces and engines absorbed by the same external structure, while flying at subsonic speeds. With a search sector of respectively 160 and 60 degrees on the horizon and vertical planes, the SKYWARD-G has a series of operating air-to-air, air-to-surface, air-to-sea and landing aid modes, with tracking while searching capabilities of up to 200 targets simultaneously. So far, 150 systems in different versions have been ordered. In 2016, SKYWARD in the K-model, of which no details are known, was selected for a fighter platform programme under development by a customer from the Far East. First deliveries are expected in 2020. ESD believes that this is the new generation KF-X fighter programme for South Korea. In addition to being offered in a pod-mounted version (SKYWARD-F) selected in 2012 by Northrop Grumman to equip its OpenPOD product being offered to US customers, SKYWARD was more recently selected to equip an unmanned surveillance platform of a Far East country. “Called SKYWARD BA, the latter has been integrated on board a UAV tactical platform which is at the end of its development phase, in two units to be delivered in 2019”, Balzarotti said. The pod-mounted installation pushes towards air-to-ground as well as air-to-air operations, but Leonardo did not comment. SKYWARD BA could also equip GA-ASI’s MQ-8B SKY GUARDIAN UAV. Leonardo has also gained experience in the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV) sector participating to the European nEuRON programme with the responsibility for the Smart Integrated Weapon Bay (SIWB). The latter provides autonomous detection, identification and tracking of ground fixed and mobile targets. The airborne segment of the SIWB includes the Mission Controller (MC), the Electro Optical Processor (EOP) and the Integrated Optronic Head (IOH) in addition to the weapon bay management system. The IOH includes a 3-5-micron IRST sensor with laser rangefinder and a controlling unit with automatic target recognition algorithms, thanks to which targets are identified through comparison with an on-board stored images database loaded before mission.


Leonardo’s business unit in Nerviano is developing a new-generation infrared situational awareness and attack warning system called MAIR (multi-aperture infra-red), consisting of a multiple distributed camera system operating in the IR spectrum and able to automatically detect and track air vehicle and missiles and to provide day/night spherical imaging for situational awareness. “The MAIR has a dual main mission: provide not only multiple simultaneous missile launch warning but also the required accuracy for directional countermeasures (DIRCM) engagement in addition to hostile gun fire indication, as well as day/night situational awareness in degraded weather or operational conditions”, said Leonardo’s VP IRST Programmes Giorgio Balzarotti. The company only acknowledged to have conducted an extensive campaign with its own hyperspectral system against a range of targets to better determinate the most effective operating-band. The system prototype was expected to complete ground trials in 2018 in preparation for flying on testbed platforms in early 2019. The latter include a small general aviation aircraft and a commercial helicopter. “The final MAIR suite for rotary-wing applications is expected to include up to 5-6 heads depending on spherical coverage requirements, each weighting about 2.5 kg with one operating as master/interfacing unit with the on-board mission system. A control unit is added if video coverage is required”. Each sensor head will also include a laser warning aperture capability, the Leonardo representative said. In addition to rotary-wing applications, MAIR has been conceived and developed for both transport and combat aircraft, in the latter case exploiting all the processing experience developed with fast-jet IRST to provide a spherical situational awareness. Even if the programme has attracted strong interest, MAIR is being developed with company funding.

Luca Peruzzi