Motor racing team sails into a defensive future

Lola Cars International has signed a deal with defence contractor BAE Systems to design and build a composite housing for the Royal Navy’s new fleet of Type 45 destroyers.

The racing car manufacturer specialises in composites, which among other things reduce the visibility of military equipment to enemy radar.

Lola has been commissioned by BAE Systems to produce a giant ‘golf-ball’ shaped housing for the radar on the Type 45, to improve the destroyer’s stealth capabilities.

‘The housing will be one of the largest composite structures in Europe, a sphere of 6m in diameter. We expect 12 to 15 to be made to order, most of them going on the Type 45 destroyer and the future aircraft carriers that will come into service afterwards,’ claimed Chris Newland, Lola’s BAE Systems contract manager.

By stealth

While defence might not seem an obvious market for a car manufacturer, Newland said Lola’s experience of composites in the design of racing cars made diversification possible.

‘We’ve been doing this for a little while for the likes of Matra Marconi Space, BAE Systems and others. In fact Lola has in the past 18 months acquired onebusiness and is in the process of getting into another to continue this trend.’

‘It’s all transferable technology from one sector to another. We also producecomposite rowing boats and are trying to sell them to the Cambridge University rowing team.’

The four-year pre-production programme, for what is called an antennae structure, will involve many trial stages, according to Newland.

Design, development and testing will be required before taking the structure to a full-scale model. After that is completed there is expected to be another four-year contract for production.

The structure will sit at the top of the Type 45’s main mast, forming the highest part of the ship, where it could contribute significantly to its potential radar signature.Traditionally, ship designs include many surfaces that reflect radar energy. The theory behind stealth technology is that radar can be absorbed and dispersed by unbroken flat non-angular surfaces.

So the entire superstructure and radar mast have been designed to minimise the ship’s visibility to hostile radars.

Lola would not say how it intends to make such a large composite structure or exactly how it will contribute to the ship’s stealth capabilities.

But the stealth fighter, the F-117A Nighthawk, and the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber usecomposites extensively to absorb radar energy.

The first Type 45 destroyer is due in service by 2007. If BAE Systems wins the contract to build the navy’s new aircraft carriers, the composite radar housing will go into service on the first of those in 2012.

With the pre-production and actual production contracts Lola expects to be working with BAE Systems for the next decade. Overall, the project will be 20 years long as the radar that sits inside the composite housing has been in development for 10 years already.

Known as the Sampson Multi Function Radar, it is being developed by BAE Land and Sea Systems. The contract for this next-generation radar, which will be used for target identification and surveillance, is worth £100m.

The radar is said to use ‘digital adaptive beam forming’, which BAE claims is ‘virtually immune to electronic jamming’. The system is expected to be more powerful than existing systems and capable of performing many tasks simultaneously.

Face of the future

Sampson uses an active-array antenna, which has thousands of miniature transmitter and receiver units mounted on its transmitter ‘face’. BAE Systems claims these reduce the energy losses that have limited the performance of conventional systems in the past.

The active-array radar, with its composite housings, is expected progressively to make traditional systems obsolete.

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