Raytheon-developed APG-79 AESA equipment could offer a dramatic leap in capability

A Boeing and US Navy test team is preparing for a series of expanded operational tests of the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar-equipped F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from July as part of efforts to clear the Block 2 version for initial operational capability in September 2006.

The Raytheon-developed APG-79 AESA radar is a fundamental part of the Block 2 upgrade and is expected to be installed in 280 new-build E/F/A-18E/F and G aircraft, as well as being retrofitted from 2007 in up to 135 E/Fs built from Lot 26.

These later versions have a completely redesigned forward fuselage to save cost as well as house the new radar. Initial versions of the radar are currently under test in a single E and two F models at the US Navy's China Lake site in California, having begun flight tests last July.

"By December all functionality will have been introduced," says F/A-18E/F AESA programme manager Don Thole, who adds: "We're getting five times the reliability in terms of what we get with the APG-73 [the current F/A-18E/F radar]". Test results confirm significantly higher-resolution synthetic aperture radar imagery, which will be used for ground imaging in the air-to-ground role, while air-to-air evaluations are also continuing. The next operational test (OT) phase is set for July and August.

Technical evaluations, involving the US Navy's VX-9 dedicated OT unit, are scheduled for May 2005, with six production aircraft from the forthcoming Lot 27 due to enter operational evaluation (opeval) with the navy around February 2006. "This will also involve carrier performance and EMI [electro-magnetic interference] testing at Patuxent River, Maryland," says Thole. Service entry is due in September 2006.

The AESA is seen as offering a dramatic leap in capability as the "inertialess" electrically scanned beam allows air-to-air and air-to-ground modes to interleave sequentially. This allows the pilot to scan in air-to-air mode, while the aft crew station can be used for air-to-ground tasks.



Source: Flight International