Warplanes: Little Guys Become Low Riders


January24, 2007: SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is equipping its smaller aircraft (MH-47G, MH-60M, MC-130H and CV-22) with terrain following radar (TFR). Previously, this equipment was too heavy for these smaller aircraft. TFR uses radar and other sensors and electronics to enable aircraft to fly very close to the ground at night and in bad weather. This is a major combat advantage because the low flying makes you less observable by enemy radar, or eyeballs and ears. TFR also requires a reliable flight control system, because, at those altitudes (sometimes under a hundred feet), flight adjustments have to be made automatically, without any pilot intervention. The first TFR was used during the 1960s, by the U.S. F-111 fighter bomber. TFR has since been adopted by several other aircraft, like the Tornado IDS, Rafale, F-15E, Mirage F-1 and B-1B. The basic TFR technology, ground mapping radar, was developed and used during World War II.

Putting together this new lightweight TFR will cost SOCOM $135 million. Such equipment will also have some commercial use (aerial ambulances, police and rescue squads), who have to respond in bad weather or night. TFR also provides more detailed information on the weather, and details of what's on the ground below, both of which are also advantageous. It will be several years before combat aircraft are equipped with production models of the lightweight TFR.


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