Fighter radars ﬁnally going AESA
AEROSPACE AMERICA/APRIL 2013
craft. In mid-2011, the APG-81 andNorthrop’s AN/AAQ-37 electroopticaldistributed aperture system (EODAS)aboard CATBird participated in North-ern Edge 2011 exercises. In early 2012,the APG-81 and EODAS detected,tracked, and targeted multiple rocketlaunches during NASA’s ATREX (anomalous transport rocket experi-ment) event at Wallops Island, Vir-ginia. Reportedly, the APG-81 contin-uously tracked missiles most of thetime, with EODAS repeatedly losingand reacquiring the simulated ballisticmissiles. The APG-81 has still not beeneffectively tested aboard a JSF aircraft. A major reason for JSF delays
es-pecially in integrating diverse systemsaboard the actual aircraft
is the mas-sive amount of new software codeneeded for the plane’s truly integratedavionics/sensors/electronics systems.In April 2012, Mark Maybury, chief sci-entist of the Air Force, claimed that90% of JSF functionality will be cyber-based, compared with 70% for theF-22, 60% for the B-2, and 20% for theF-15.Even getting sensor data off boardraises new complexities. Harris’s low-observable MADL (multifunction ad- vanced data link) was designed specif-ically for the JSF, and will limit datatransference to other JSFs within a for-mation or designated MADL-equippedcommand and control elements. This will create a new form of ‘stovepiping’just as international militaries are seek-ing fully networked C4ISR.The U.S. fighter radar market willgrow substantially with increasing JSFproduction in the second half of ourforecast, but for the next few years the Air Force F-15 and Navy F/A-18E/F will be worth equal or larger shares of the market. The F-22 Raptor radar
thefirst major production fighter AESA
will soldier on for decades. But low-cost AESA antenna upgrades for hun-dreds or even thousands of U.S. andinternational F-16s are likely to be worth a relatively small sliver of theoverall market, as technological matu-rity and competition between North-rop Grumman and Raytheon keep to-tal values down.
JSF delays and legacy upgrades
Designed from the start for air-to-ground missions, and given its lesserpower, the JSF will carry an integrated AESA radar and sensor system. These will have shorter range but greater ca-pabilities than Northrop Grumman/Raytheon’s F-22 AN/APG-77 (thoughthe first Increment 3.1 F-22 was de-ployed in early 2012, adding an air-to-ground synthetic aperture radar, orSAR, mode).Northrop Grumman’s MIRFS (mul-tifunction integrated RF system) is theintegrated avionics system in develop-ment for JSF since 1996, with thecompany’s AN/APG-81 AESA multi-function nose array the most impor-tant and expensive sensor. It will pro- vide near-simultaneous air-to-groundand air-to-air radar modes, as well ashigh-gain electronic support measuresand electronic attack jamming func-tions. The X-band APG-81 will also in-teract with other frequency band an-tennas in apertures around thestealthy JSF.In January 2009, Lockheed Martincompleted the first JSF with a com-plete mission system. In June 2009,Northrop Grumman began APG-81test flights aboard its CATBird test air-
sequestrationkicked in, which meanssome major programs will see reducedfunding. However, delays in F-35 JSF‘production’ over the past several years have probably already helpedmore than hindered active electron-ically scanned array (AESA) radar de- velopment for fighter aircraft. In thepast year, the USAF was finally forcedto fund major upgrades to existingF-15 and F-16 aircraft, which will re-main the backbone of the Air Forcefor decades, with or without JSF. AESA antennas comprise a matrixof individual active transmit/receivemodules
that can beconfigured electronically to scan mul-tiple targets and switch between themalmost instantaneously. By contrast,mechanically scanned array antennasmust physically rotate to change fieldof regard, and can typically track tar-gets with only a single beam. AESAsalso are expected to have reduced fail-ure rates and maintenance require-ments compared to complex mechan-ical antennas, and to provide ‘gracefuldegradation’ in the event of damageor partial system failure.
The AN/APG-81 AESA will provide near-simultaneousair-to-ground and air-to-air radar modes for the Joint Strike Fighter.