As rivals in a race to open an international market for retrofitting active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars on Lockheed Martin F-16s, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman are looking for customers in opposite locations.

The first customer for the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR), which shares 90% commonality with the APG-79 AESA aboard the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, may come from abroad, says Ken Murphy, a member of Raytheon's capture team.

"The international side realises they need to get out in front of the US [Air Force]," Murphy says. "We're hoping to see a [request for proposals] next year."

Murphy declines to cite specific countries, but Raytheon is known to have received export licenses to market RACR to Greece and South Korea.

Northrop Grumman, meanwhile, has predicted the US Air Force could move first. Last month, Dave Wallace, the company's manager for F-16 sensor programme development, said a USAF decision to launch an AESA-retrofit programme is "right on the edge of their tongue".

Northrop offers the Scaleable Agile Beam Radar (SABR), which is derived from the APG-81 on the Lockheed F-35 and APG-80 on the F-16 Block 60.

Both companies have now integrated their AESA candidates on an F-16.

Most recently, Raytheon completed six flights with the RACR installed on a USAF F-16. Murphy acknowledges the RACR schedule was accelerated for a demonstration programme. Raytheon skipped the traditional step of installing the radar on a testbed aircraft, with Northrop having previously tested its SABR on a company-owned business jet.

But, Murphy explains, RACR could be integrated quickly because of its commonality with the APG-79 and Raytheon's experience with retrofitting an AESA on F/A-18E/Fs.

In only six flights, Raytheon tested several modes on RACR, including aerial search and track, synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicator. The flights also showed that RACR could be integrated into the F-16's joint helmet mounted cueing system, allowing the pilot to cue the sensor with a head turn.

Murphy notes that such a system would prove ideal in a combat scenario on the Korean peninsula as a counter-artillery system.

"The capability that RACR brings would definitely help," he says. "Any type of AESA would be greatly needed and the capability it brings would be significant."

Source: Flight International