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This article describes the design of a radio telescope front-end system with a focal plane array (FPA) and an RF beamforming section. The multi-beam capability of the FPA increases the field of view and the survey scanning speed of the telescope. The system performance is related to the different components and a model for the complexity is derived. We address the number of beams and elements per beam in relation to their impact on system complexity. Also, we demonstrate that in specific applications RF beamforming can be of advantage over digital beamforming systems. Experience is drawn from the technology demonstrator project PHAROS.