FARNBOROUGH, EnglandRaytheon [RTN] and the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (MoD) have completed capabilities assurance mission (CAM) testing of the Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) system and the long-awaited capability could soon be deployed, the company said here this week.

“There is no doubt this capability will benefit ongoing operations,” Wing Cmdr. Jerry Cowell from MoD Defence Equipment Support told reporters at a press briefing.

British airmen and soldiers returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq played a key role in the integrated project team’s (IPT) development of the six-part CAM series, Scott Tilden, Raytheon’s ASTOR program manager, said.

During testing conducted by Raytheon and the Royal Air Force 5 Squadron, the airborne wide area surveillance, dual-mode radar and ground components were progressively stretched to the limits of their technology and ultimately raised the performance capability of the system, Tilden said.

The CAM tests reflected how the system needed to be used in theater, enabling 5 Squadron to develop operational procedures, British Army Maj. Simon Hanford, a member of the IPT, told sister publication Defense Daily. “You have to do this as you go…we’ve never had this capability before,” Hanford said. The situation on the ground today is unlike anything before, he added.

The tests exercised the MoD’s intelligence cycle precisely, starting with a request for intelligence (RFI) that generated an ASTOR task, followed by a collection mission, processing and turn around for answers and actionable intelligence.

“This is a very important cycle,” Cowell said. “We had to make sure ASTOR could deliver in all parts of that cycle.”

ASTOR’s ground moving target indicator (GMTI) and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) combination was tasked with 4,870 scenes, Tilden said, and 4610 of those, or about 95 percent, were collected. RFI’s were answered in more than 90 percent of the cases. “This is something we’re all very proud of,” he added.

Cowell could not speculate on how soon the MoD could decide to send ASTOR downrange, but said the system “was ready.” It is designed to pass near real time information for force protection, identification and location in a ground support role.

ASTOR will enter initial service with two systems and two trained crews. It is employed on Bombardier Sentinal R Mk1 aircraft, a Global Express variant. The first four aircraft have been delivered and the fifth and last is scheduled by the end of the year.

Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is in about 12 months with four systems and trained crews. Full Operational Capability will come in two years with all five systems and eight trained crews.

In 2005, Raytheon took a $55 million charge as a result of “slippage” on ASTOR (Defense Daily, Feb. 15, 2005). The company could not comment on how profitable the program ultimately looks like it will turn out.

Cowell was free to characterize the delays. “Given the complexity of the program, I don’t really see [the delays] as that much of a disaster.”