Italy’s CAEW not just an airborne radar


Riccardo Niccoli describes the Aeronautica Militare’s unique Conformal Riccardo Niccoli describes the Aeronautica Militare’s unique Conformal Airborne Early Warning system

14° Stormo via Author

The requirement to provide Italy’s Aeronautica Militare with an aircraft equipped to carry an airborne radar was explicitly identified by the Italian defence structure at the beginning of the 1990s. In 1991 a Defence Ministry White Paper promulgated a so-called New Defence Model. The end of the Cold War and the armed standoff between the NATO nations and the Warsaw Pact saw a re-evaluation of defence priorities with Italy focusing on the Mediterranean.

The White Paper suggested the acquisition of two airborne early warning aircraft, which were to have been integrated with the ground-based defence radar network to permit greater flexibility and an enhanced capacity for long range threat detection. In 1998, the concept, put on hold because of lack of money, was revisited, but the only positive outcome was an evaluation of the Grumman E-2C Hawkeye aircraft by the Divisione Aerea Studi Ricerche e Sperimentazioni (DASRS – Test Air Division) at Pratica di Mare. At the time, it was planned to allocate 1,100 billion lire from 2001 for the AEW (Airborne Early Warning) programme. Nevertheless, again because of cost, by 2003 despite its perceived importance the project was again put on the back burner. Italy was already investing heavily in the F-2000 Typhoon and there simply wasn’t enough money to go around. Boeing’s Wedgetail was briefly considered but was also considered too expensive.

It was not until 2012 that the governments of Italy and Israel signed a cooperation agreement on July 19 that provided a solution. Under the terms of the deal Italy would provide Israel with 30 M-346 trainers and would collaborate in the development of the OPTSAT 3000 reconnaissance satellite, acquiring one example, and additionally obtain two Gulfstream G550s modified by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elta to the conformal airborne early warning standard, d, dubbed CAEW.

Equipped with the Honeywell Primus Epic PlaneView flight-deck, Aeronautica Militare E-550 aircrew have a very intuitive cockpit system to fly their high-value machine.

CAEW was developed by Israeli industry to satisfy the requirements of its own air force, which at the beginning of the new century needed a new airborne radar platform following the retirement of its old E-2C Hawkeyes and Boeing 707 Phalcons. IAI selected the Gulfstream G550 (also known as the Gulfstream V-SP), a twin-jet business aircraft derived from the Gulfstream V but with a range of around 6,750 nautical miles (12,500km) and a new Honeywell digital cockpit, which had been launched on the market by the American company in 2003. The original G550 aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of more than 41 tonnes and is powered by two Rolls-Royce BR710 C4-11 turbofans each producing 15,385lb’s of thrust (6,980kg or 68.44kN), which enable a maximum speed of 488kts (903km/h) and a service ceiling of over 51,000 feet. CAEWspecific performance remains unknown. Work began on the project in August 2003 when IAI and Elta set out to define the specification of the new AEW aircraft for the Israeli Air Force. The result was the G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning & Control), known as Nachschon Eitam in Israel. The mission system includes the EL/W-2085 electronic suite, a development of the EL/W-2075 single band system utilised on the old Boeing 707 Phalcon. According to the company, the heart of the aircraft is its airborne mission segment, five sensor systems: radar, identification friend or foe (IFF), electronic support measures (ESM), communications, and the self-protection system. The data from each element is automatically fused thanks to a technique of continual cross-checking. The package is completed by a ground segment composed of antennas from the satellite system, groundbased communications systems, a mission support system and an operator training system.

The dual band radar (L band, 1 – 2 GHz and S band 2 – 4 GHz) comprises fixed active electronically scanned phased array antennas installed in cheeks fitted to the fuselage sides, in the nose, and on the rear fuselage. Together they provided coverage over 360°, which is updated every two to four seconds, as opposed to the 20 to 40 seconds with a rotating antenna, such as on the E-3 AWACS. The crew can focus the radar emissions and concentrate them in any direction. This ability can be used in two ways, either to concentrate on a particular larger search area or to focus the beam on a smaller target at longer range. The EL/W-2085 is said to have the ability to monitor at least 100 targets at distances greater than 200 nautical miles (370 km). The self-protection system includes a radar warning receiver, a missile approach warning system, and two chaff and flare launchers. The communications suite includes UHF/VHF/HF, SATCOM (satellite), VOIP (voice over-IP) and secure voice systems as well as a secure datalink. Six identical workstations are installed in the cabin, but each can be configured according to mission requirements. Each station is fitted with a 24-inch (610mm) LCD display, a keyboard and mouse, and a communications panel.

Two Eitams were introduced into Israeli Air Force service from September 2007. In the same year, the aircraft was also ordered by the Republic of Singapore Air Force, with four examples being delivered from 2010.

The E-550 is a highly modified Gulfstream 550 business jet. This example, E-550A MM62303/14-12 seen at Amendola Air Base, Italy, has Gulfstream-branded engine covers despite the modification being undertaken by Israel Aerospace Industries and Elta.
All images Riccardo Niccoli unless noted
So heavily modified is the E-550, it’s diff cult to recognise the Gulfstream G550 beneath radomes and cheeks fitted for the conformal airborne early warning configuration. Satellite communication antennas and electronic support measure sensors are housed in the tail top fairing.
14° Stormo via Author

Italian jets

Italy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel on June 16, 2003 and a Memorandum of Agreement on August 8, 2011. The construction of the first airframe began at Gulfstream’s Savannah, Georgia facility in 2015. The basic ‘green’ airframe, marked N849GA, was flown to Israel that September. Gulfstream had already completed its so-called Type A modifications, which includes installing most of the exterior ‘lumps and bumps’ before delivery and it was now the turn of IAI to install and integrate the Type B modifications, the mission systems. For reasons of security the variations to the configuration requested by the Aeronautica Militare for its own aircraft have not been revealed, but probably it does not diff er substantially from the basic Israeli configuration, albeit with improvements introduced in the meantime by Elta in respect of some aspects of the radar functions, which off er better performance than those in the preceding CAEW systems. Italian-specific modifications include the Link 16 datalink, encrypted communications, the MIDS (Multifunctional Information Distribution System) and the IFF (all produced by Leonardo and standard NATO kit). The satellite communication system is compatible with Italy’s SICRAL system.

Once the work and testing acceptance conducted by a team formed from the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (RSV or Test Wing), 14° Stormo, the jets’ eventual operator and the Direzione degli Armamenti Aeronautici e per l’Aeronavigabilità – DAAA – the Italian Military aviation regulatory authority had been completed, the first example, MM62293/14-11 arrived at Pratica di Mare on November 29, 2016 and was assigned to 14° Stormo’s 71° Gruppo, the AM’s electronic surveillance experts. The same unit formerly operated both the PD808GE in the electronic warfare training role and the unique G222VS signals and electronic intelligence (SIGINT and ELINT) platform. The second E-550 was delivered to 14° Stormo on December 15, 2017. The introduction into service of these special machines was a delicate process, which is still not complete. In addition to 14° Stormo’s 71° Gruppo, it has included input from its Centro Equipaggi di Missione (aircrew training centre), and the Gruppo Efficienza Aeromobili (GEA or maintenance squadron), the RSV, the Reparto Supporto Tecnico Operativo alla Guerra Elettronica (ReSTOGE, or technical and operational support unit to electronic warfare), and the Reparto di Gestione e Innovazione Sistemi di Comando e Controllo (ReGISCC, or command and control systems management unit). The formal technical documentation relative to the ground and flight tests of the CAEW, performed by the RSV on the second aircraft for five weeks between May and June 2018, was finally released on June 22, concluding the Supplemental Test programme, which involved more than 30 test flights, some of which involved Typhoon fighters.

Electronic support measures are part of the E-550’s electronic intelligence suite and use externally-mounted antennas housed in pods carried on pylons under the outer wings, atop the nose and on the aircraft’s fin. Passive in operation, the electronic support measures capture electromagnetic emissions from active systems. The outer wing-mounted pods also house elements of the communication intelligence system.
The original G550 aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of more than 41 tonnes and is powered by two Rolls-Royce BR710 C4-11 turbofans each producing 15,385lb/68.44kN of thrust. The CAEW-specific performance numbers are unknown.
14° Stormo via Author

Thanks to the cooperation of the Aeronautica Militare and the Italian MoD, the author was the first journalist to be allowed to visit 14° Stormo to write about the new aircraft.

AIR International asked Colonel Giuseppe Addesa, 71° Gruppo’s commander to describe the E-550A’s role: “The aircraft is an instrument of exceptional importance which represents the autonomous national capacity to manage our forces. It is capable of controlling and managing maritime patrol and battlefield management missions but is also fundamental in other more common and frequent activities, such as the surveillance of national airspace and homeland security. It is, in fact, capable of contrasting not just traditional threats, but also the ambiguous menace from slow- and low-flying light aircraft, which represent the most difficult identification characteristics. Furthermore, it enables, while operating at high altitude, the detection problems resulting from the orographic nature of the terrain to be overcome. Finally, it is an indispensable asset, as the NATO AWACS component is not always compatible with the exclusively national requirements of the individual member nations.”

Sensors, antenna, radomes and cheeks; the E-550’s configuration makes the jet very recognisable. Cheeks fitted to the fuselage sides house fixed active electronically scanned phased array L-band radar/ IFF antennas.

The introduction into service of the aircraft was obviously preceded by the completion of qualification courses by its crews. The first pilots, drawn from within 14° Stormo, initially undertook a NATO course on air operations at the Comando Operazioni Aeree (COA or air operations command) at Poggio Renatico, later continuing onto a transition course (type rating) onto the E-550A with CAE SIMUFLITE, thanks to the use of 8 SIM CLASS D simulators. This activity is performed ‘on-demand’ via occasional ad hoc contracts with civilian companies to achieve the best cost/efficiency benefits. Military transition is conducted later at Pratica di Mare on the CAEW itself and takes around six months for the entire crew.

A CAEW crew comprises two pilots and six system operators. Five of these operators are drawn from ground control interception officers from CSA-DAMI (CSA, Comando della Squadra Aerea – Air Fleet Command) (DAMI, Difesa Aerea Missilistica Integrata - Integrated Missile Air-defence Squadron). They are licensed in the role of controlling Italian airspace by the AM’s general staff. The sixth operator is an electronic warfare specialist. The operators, officers and NCOs from the CSA-DAMI, are inserted organically into the 14° Stormo through the newly constituted Centro Equipaggi di Missione, the function of which is to generate crews for the CAEW and to ensure that they maintain their competences and qualifications in accordance with the requirements of the current protocols.

Despite the seemingly drastic alterations to the basic Gulfstream airframe there is very little difference between it and the CAEW when it comes to take off weights and centre of gravity and general handling. The cockpit is dominated by the digital Honeywell Primus Epic PlaneView flight-deck, created specifically for this aircraft. The major addition to the CAEW cockpit not found in a civilian aircraft are multifunction screens displaying information and imagery which are displayed on the workstations in the cabin. Crew flexibility means the jet can fly with a variety of crew specialists. Generally, some of the operators are occupied with managing the radar while others manage the mission. T Col Zaccheo C, the Commander of the Centro Equipaggi di Missione says about system operators: “These come from two sources, either from the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force at Geilenkirchen, where for a long time Italian personnel have been assigned, or from former ground–based personnel from the AM’s radar control centres, mainly former fighter controllers from the control reporting centres. In both these cases, they are personnel with experience in radar-based command and control operations, who are required to upskill their own capability, adapting it to the possibilities off ered by the new system, which are truly notable. As is the practice in this type of aircraft, the crew commander is also the commander of the mission and is a pilot. The tactical director is, however, an integrated air and missile defence controller, and is responsible for the eff ective execution of the mission objectives assigned by the national chain of command and control.”

The E-550’s forward radome houses an active electronically scanned phased array antenna, one of four providing 360° coverage to the dual band radar of the EL/W-2085 system.

As opposed to other AEW aircraft, the CAEW does not have particular problems with cooling its mission systems, and so can commence operations almost immediately after take off.The powerful phased array radar off ers a variety of modes in addition to the typical search mode. A weather mode provides flight safety data and of course the IFF mode. Given that the radar is completely digital, the direction, intensity and power of its emissions can be controlled rapidly; it is possible to establish a long range search over elevated sectors of the field or concentrate the emission beam width into a few degrees to monitor limited sectors at extremely long range or in great detail, and to identify very small objects. The radar can be used for either air-to-air or air-to-ground operations. The forward and rear antennas of the system operate in the S band (2 - 4 GHz), while the fuselage lateral antennas operate in the L band (1 - 2 GHz). The operation in two bands provides a defence against hostile electronic countermeasures, while another potent defensive aid is the speed of the aircraft and the high altitudes at which it can operate - around 41,000 feet - which puts it more or less out of reach of surface-based antiaircraft threats.

If the radar is the essential component in the system, the ESM (electronic support measures) is also highly important. Part of the ELINT suite, it is fitted with four external antennas mounted in the pods which are located at the wingtips, nose and fin of the aircraft. The ESM is a passive system, which captures electromagnetic emissions from other active systems. Although primarily used for the defence of the aircraft and other assets which form the operational package guided by the CAEW.

Although an ELINT system is capable of performing other duties, its main role is as an information distribution node. It acts as the crucial hub of the system of airborne command and control, collecting information and distributing it to all the participants in the mission, be they combat aircraft, support aircraft, or land- or sea-based command centres. To achieve this, the CAEW possess the three datalink systems selected by NATO as the standard for transmission of data in the future. These are Link 16, a system already in use for some time and well known, and the VMF (Variable Message Format) system designed for dialogue with surface units, like JTAC. VMF facilitates the performance of Digital Aided Close Air Support missions using the Rover system, which can also send and receive imagery. When used in conjunction with land forces the system permits simultaneous transmission on three channels in Voice Radio Relay in UHF. These, together with radio communications, in clear or via secure voice, are line of sight (LOS) transmissions. The third data-link system is the JREAP (Joint Range Extension Application Protocol), a system which, using satellites, permits the transmission of encrypted messages containing tactical data over long distances without any degradation of the message itself. In this mode data can be transmitted beyond line of sight, including messages originating from Link 16-enabled systems like the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, an L band network radio system or MIDS.

E-550A MM62303/14-12 on final approach to Gilze-Rijen Air Base in the Netherlands during the 2018 Air Centric Personnel Recovery Operatives’ Course.
Ludo Mennes

CAEW’s communication suite includes many elements capable of providing a satellite transmission capability including VOIP, JCHAT transmissions (a real-time active chat facility established with the land-based command and control centres). The system also guarantees the capacity to perform missions over the sea and to provide battlefield management over land.

CAEW can be seen as a font of shared information, which guarantees the ‘Information Assurance’ necessary when planning missions. The sum of the on-board systems contributes greatly to generating the Recognised Air and Surface Picture (RASP). Having done so it can then securely distribute it to the various actors involved in a mission.

Given the G550’s approximate 8-foot external fuselage diameter, the addition of the side cheeks extends the aircraft’s overall width by an estimated 16 inches.

In substance, the E-550A is far more than a traditional airborne radar picket aircraft, but should more correctly be defined as an Airborne Early Warning, Battlefield Management & Communication platform, an instrument of exceptional importance for the surveillance and defence of national airspace. Among the capabilities it provides is the means to identify and track so-called ‘Renegade’ targets, those small aircraft which could serve terrorists. It is also capable of supporting and coordinating operations over the battlefield or at sea, providing an indispensable contribution to such operations. It is a system which is capable of managing highly complex scenarios, and of multiplying the capacities of fourth- and fifth-generation tactical aircraft.

It is, therefore, not a mystery that numerous friendly air forces have shown a great interest in the aircraft, and that it has been frequently requested to participate in various NATO exercises. The CAEW has been employed in two major homeland security operations, the G7 conference at Taormina in 2017 and the G20 at Palermo in 2018, as well as exercises such as Joint Stars in 2017 and 2018, and also Corvus Corax with Italy’s Guardia di Finanza. The aircraft participated in NATO Exercise Ramstein Alloy 18-1 in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in April 2018, the first time the aircraft had been engaged in the context of the Atlantic Alliance, and which demonstrated the full interoperability of the system with other NATO assets and systems. This was followed by Trident Juncture in Norway in 2018, as well as by two APROCs (Air Centric Personnel Recovery Operative Courses) for the European Personnel Recovery Centre, again in 2017 and 2018. The aircraft has also been requested for the Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) courses, either at Albacete, Spain or, at the end of 2018, Amendola, Italy. The intense use to which the aircraft have been subjected is reflected in the fact that by July 3, 2018 the fleet had already accumulated more than 1,000 flying hours, a significant achievement considering that it had been reached in 18 months, with a fleet, which for the first 12, comprised only one aircraft.

Obviously the first priority of 14° Stormo is collaboration, training and integration of the CAEW with the tactical aircraft operated by the AM, namely the F-2000, F-35, Tornado, and AMX. Of particular importance is F-35A, another data and information gatherer and distributor which can operate as a separate node in RASP-generating cohort linked to CAEW. The ability to deploy both E-550 and F-35 (in conjunction with the F-2000) makes the AM one of the most state-of-the-art air forces at NATO level, and beyond.

CAEWs usually operate as part of a collation with other armed forces (especially navies) and the national defence structure.

As a force multiplier it enhances the performance of other weapon systems, especially older less capable ones.

Work continues to get the best from the aircraft and its systems. The two CAEWs are maintained organically by the 14° Stormo’s GEA, which uses its own engineering personnel to perform all the organisational level maintenance. The present logistical support contract establishes the presence at the main operating base at Pratica di Mare of a few company engineers, who assist AM personnel, but who never perform any maintenance activity on their own.

The system and the crews have now reached a good point in terms of training and integration, while the self-defence system has also overcome the phase of Operational Test & Evaluation, which was concluded in March 2019 with live deployment over the PISQ range at Perdasdefogu of the chaff and flare system. A date for the achievement of Full Operational Capability has not yet been identified, mainly because the studies relating to the capability of the aircraft are still in the development phase. AI