Ukrainian/South African joint effort to upgrade former Soviet radars in Africa


A new company based in Ukraine but also operating out of Johannesburg, AMC Engineering and Trade (PTY) LTD, plans to upgrade Soviet-designed radar systems throughout Africa, such as the one exhibited at last week’s Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition, the P-18OU, a modernised and upgraded version of the old analogue P-18 ground radar.

The P-18 was a large but mobile ground-based early warning radar developed in 1970. The system was known to NATO as the “Spoon Rest D” and was part of a series of so-called “Knife Rest, Spoon Rest” systems designated P-8 to P-18, and thought to have been called “Laura” in Russian, the project name being “Terek”.

The P-18 is a VHS-band system used widely in the Cold War and naturally found its way to African countries, and was known as a highly effective C3 command and control system, part of the so-called “Warsaw Pact interlocking radar” air defence system.

The P-18 comprised two trucks, one for the generators and one for the radar control, which could be linked to an air control headquarters, fighter control station or rocket battery. The P-18 systems used in Africa today are getting quite long in the tooth and the AMC upgrade promises a new lease on life for cash-strapped countries.

The P-18OU operates out to 400 kilometres from base and the example shown to defenceWeb included the Zimbabwe border in the north, Aliwal North in the West, Lesotho in the South and Swaziland/Mozambican coast in the East. It can track 150 targets simultaneously.

AMC’s main idea is to leave most of the parts in the system intact, changing the servo-motors in the transmitter-receiver antenna assembly and adding a new generator capable of running the system unaided for 48 hours.

In the radar guidance truck, two screens show transmission and reception. All analogue components have been replaced by solid state digital equipment and modular components to allow swift servicing. This is important as by 2015, aviation authorities have indicated all radar stations must meet digital requirements.

According to AMC Director John Turner, conversion training can be carried out in four weeks, two of which are in Ukraine and two in Africa.

The P-18OU records all playback on the monitor and the system can be operated in active or passive mode, with good anti-jamming capabilities. Reports state that P-18 systems were believed to be used by Russia and the former Yugoslavia in cancelling out stealth capabilities, reportedly contributing to the shooting down of a US Air Force F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter over the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Turner is confident AMC can upgrade former Soviet radar systems used in African countries and indicated interest from as far away as Egypt.

Published accounts say both Egypt and Libya used P-18 systems along with other radars.