Northrop Grumman has made the first demonstration flight with a new active electronically scanned array sensor being developed primarily as a retrofit option for the Lockheed Martin F-16.

Dubbed the scaleable agile beam radar (SABR), the AESA design was flown in a Northrop-owned Sabreliner testbed (pictured below with integration model array) on 16 November from Baltimore, Maryland, and detected numerous aerial targets during the sortie, the company says.

 Sabreliner SABR
© Northrop Grumman

The current flight campaign is expected to last for between two and three months, with Northrop then planning to integrate and flight test the SABR array in an F-16 during 2009.

Discussions have taken place with several nations potentially interested in providing an aircraft to test the system, says Skip Wagner, Northrop's business development director for F-16 sensor systems.

Optimised for use with Block 50-series F-16s, Northrop's panel patch array design requires no structural modifications to the fighter, and uses existing interfaces, cooling and power systems. "To be affordable you cannot change the aircraft," says Wagner.

The SABR design is lighter than current mechanically scanned arrays, but will offer increased detection range, interleaved air-to-air and air-to-surface modes and high-resolution synthetic aperture radar imaging.

"Most AESAs are between two and four times the cost of an M-scan. By design we are trying to change that and make the cost similar," says Wagner. "F-16s will be operated for another 30 years, so this is the right answer for our customers," he adds.

Northrop also sees a future market for offering increased-scale versions of the SABR design for other legacy fighters, such as the Boeing F-15 or F/A-18, and even for larger types like the Lockheed Martin C-130 transport.

Smaller variants could also potentially equip types such as the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 and Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed F/A-50, Wagner says. "We are hopeful that in the very near term the US government will grant export of this system," he adds.

Source: Flight International