The comparative estimations of AESA radars became very popular in the discussions on different military fora. It becomes even more important in view of Indian MMRCA tender, where AESA radar existence is seemingly an ultimate condition for win. Last time the question was raised about Russian 'Zhuk-AE' radar capabilities. This radar is offered with MiG-35 fighter for Indian MMRCA competition too. In its initial 680 MMICs 'avatar' it was displayed with the main characteristic of 120 km detection range for standard flying targets (enemy fighter with 3 m2 RCS). However, the last information, published by a Russian new agency in August 2009 just before MAKS-2009 Air Show, contradicts to this figure. Then was pointed to 148 km of effectively detected and tracked air targets.
Fortunately, being on MAKS-2009 in August 21, I have met 'Fazotron-NIIR's chief constructor Anatoly Kanashchenkov near 'Fazotron's stand. I must say it in no mean was official interview, but he answered for all my questions with pleasure. I was impressed by his openness and friendliness. He explain me, that initially figured 120 km detection range – is highly downplayed, and reflect the real capability of the radar in very initial stage of work, already overcome. According to him, the planned capability of standard flying target detection for Zhuk-AE (with 680 emitting units) is 250 km, and he is in no doubt to achieve it.
Unlike MAKS-2007 this year only 'Zhuk-AE' dummy was displayed. Mr. Kanashchenkov said me it's because all working AESAs are in active flying tests now.
I asked him whether he plans to go to the 'second generation' gallium-nitride technology for MMICs instead of current gallium-arsenide. Gallium-nitride MMICs could give more powerful emission. He answered me, that it would be needed only if the electric power station of contemporary fighters was much more powerful. Now it limits the radar power, not the MMIC's technology. For example, he says, each 'Zhuk-AE's emitting element has 5 watt maximal output. However, now they still use only 3-3.5 watts with more output will be tested in the future. In addition, he explained me, Russian MMIC technology is better in some aspects, than other countries have. Russian MMICs are truly monolithic nanoheterostructures, while other AESA developers use soldered circuits with lesser reliability. Therefore, they also have no intention for 1000 units AESA for MiG-35 variant of the radar because 680 MMICs 'Zhuk-AE' is far from its full capabilities.
In addition, he said they actively work on EW, ELINT and net-centric capabilities of the radar. A popular question was about capability of AESA radar to disseminate computer viruses on enemy radars. He said it could be possible only if the enemy radar has OEM chips with a backdoor 'bug' installed. Then you can just give the command for enemy radar die-out via your AESA.