Raytheon has defended its claim as the sole radar supplier for the US Air Force Boeing F-15 fleet, beating a rival bid by Northrop Grumman for the active array upgrade contract. On behalf of the USAF, Boeing selected the Raytheon APG-63(V)4 active electronically scanned array radar to upgrade the APG-70 for 179 USAF F-15Es.
The USAF is expected to award Boeing a contract in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2008 to start the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase for the F-15 radar modernisation programme. Raytheon will build AESA radar test units during the SDD phase.
The APG-V(4) combines the front-end antenna of the APG-63(V)3 AESA and the back-end, dual-mode radar processor for the APG-79, which has entered service on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
The USAF has requested $9 million to start the SDD phase in FY2008 and $75.4 million to continue development in FY2009, with the latter figure reduced by $50 million from the original plan.
The contract award is a disappointment for Northrop, which viewed its bid as a strategic opportunity to unseat its most significant rival on an incumbent programme.
The company offered a repackaged version of the APG-81 AESA being developed for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Separately, it is designing a new active array radar for the Lockheed F-16, as the company seeks to defend its suddenly vulnerable monopoly on that fighter's main sensor equipment.
Northrop supplies the mechanically scanned APG-68 and the APG-80 agile beam radar for US and foreign F-16 customers, but its four-decade-old lock on the market has recently come under attack.
In July, Raytheon disclosed plans to offer a scaled-down version of the APG-79 active electronically scanned array, with the so-called Raytheon Next Generation Radar aimed at the single-engine fighter market, including the F-16, Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed T/A-50 and Saab Gripen (Flight International, 24-30 July).
James Pitts, president of Northrop's electronic systems sector, says the F-16 retrofit package is being designed to require no "group-A", or structural or wiring, modifications to the aircraft. The upgraded radar will include its own liquid-cooling heat exchanger that fits within the available space, he adds.
Lockheed officials have previously confirmed that they expect the US Air Force to eventually upgrade the F-16 radar to the AESA standard, and welcome a bidding competition between Northrop and Raytheon. Pitts also foresees the USAF as a potential customer, but views the export market as the most likely source of a launch order.
The F-15E radar modernisation programme is the latest in a wave of retrofit programmes involving AESA technology for fighter aircraft.
A subset of the USAF and Air National Guard F-15C fleets are now being upgraded to air-to-air versions of the APG-63 active array. Raytheon, meanwhile, is to produce the APG-79 for Block II Super Hornets, but may also retrofit the system on the Block I. It is not clear if the US Navy will reopen the retrofit contract for competition.