QinetiQ has won a contract to provide an advanced technology communications and radar mast for the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal.
Virtually maintenance free, the advanced technology mast (ATM) will, according to QinetiQ, reduce long term costs. It is lighter and stealthier than conventional masts and, because most of the equipment is enclosed within the structure, it is protected from the environment.
The mast will carry a wide variety of radio frequency transmitters and receivers ranging from essential systems such as radar through to those carried for televisions and radios.
Project Manager Graeme Batchelor explained ‘Conventional steel masts have their equipment externally mounted where it is exposed to wind, rain, salt water and ice. In addition the equipment must be carefully sited as the steel structure can block the externally mounted sensors field of view.’
By placing sensors and antennas inside the ATM’s structure, QinetiQ’s engineers have solved these problems. They have also greatly improved safety as the equipment can be maintained within the protection of the mast rather than from external scaffolding. The flexible design is adaptable and will accommodate new or upgraded sensor technologies.
The outer skin of the mast is said to be made from frequency selective or ‘tuned’ composites and allows radar and communications equipment to ‘see out’. Despite their sophistication the skins have been developed so that they can be manufactured using existing and well-established shipyard techniques. This means that large structures can still be built at reasonable initial cost and, over the life of the vessel, are cheaper because of their low maintenance and the ease with which equipment can be upgraded.
The advanced technology mast is due into service in late 2005 and QinetiQ believes it is likely to become common place on future warships.