AESA Equipped Strike Eagle Begins Flight Testing at Eglin

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A 46th Test Wing F-15E Strike Eagle carries a new radar system on its first flight sortie Jan. 18. The new APG-82 radar replaces the 24-year-old APG-70 radar system. The four-year-old project is managed by the F-15E Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force. (Photo, USAF by Staff Sgt. Felicia Welch)

An F-15E Strike Eagle equipped with new and improved APG-82(V)1 electronically scanned array technology (AESA) radar began flight testing in Florida last week. The APG-82(V)1 upgrade is part of through the F-15E service life extension, intended to maintain the Strike Eagle operational beyond 2035. Developmental testing is scheduled to continue through 2012, while early operational testing conducted in parallel beginning March 2011 with elements of the Eglin based 53rd Wing. Modification of a 53rd Wing F-15E to equip with the new radar has already begun. Serial modification of 244 F-15Es is scheduled to begin by 2014.

A 46th Test Wing F-15E Strike Eagle carries a new radar system on its first flight sortie Jan. 18. The new APG-82 radar replaces the 24-year-old APG-70 radar system. The four-year-old project is managed by the F-15E Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force. (Photo, USAF by Staff Sgt. Felicia Welch)

Modified under the Radar Modernization Program (RMP), this Strike eagle is the first to be equipped with the Raytheon developed radar, introducing major improvements over the original APG-70 mechanically scanned array (MSA). The advantage AESA radar has over traditional MSA is its near-instantaneous ability to redirect its focus from air-to-air to air-to-ground mode. “One AESA-equipped F-15E can detect and track multiple targets simultaneously and gain the same battle picture and prosecute the same number of attacks that currently require several mechanically scanned radar assets,” said Brad Jones, the Boeing director for U.S. Air Force development programs. “By no longer having to wait for the array to physically move to a new area of interest, the aircrew receives better situational awareness in less time,” 1st Lt. Nathaniel Meier, a radar modernization project manager with the OFP Combined Test Force (CTF) added.

Raytheon's APG-82(V)1 AESA radar will replace the mechanically scanned APG-70 radar used on the U.S. Air Forces' F-15E Strike Eagles.

Capt. Chris Dupin, a 40th FTS member and the weapons system officer for the first flight, said he noticed improved capabilities during the initial flight. He said the radar was able to detect F-16s much farther away than ever before. “The kill chain for anything is the ability to detect, identify, target and engage a threat,” Captain Dupin said. “If we can detect an air target earlier or farther away, that leaves more time and space to complete the rest of the kill chain. Completing the kill chain faster and earlier means we’re better able to gain or maintain airspace superiority.”

The new radar will also introduce a new dimension in F-15E readiness and support. Meyer estimates the new radar works to have approximately a 20-fold improvement in aircraft reliability.  An average failure for the APG-70 radar component was previously measured in tens of hours and can now be measured in hundreds of hours, Lieutenant Meier said. The APG-82 improved reliability also cuts down on the time needed for repairs and the cost of replacement parts.

The development of APG-82(V)1 spanned over four-years and relied on elements proven in other AESA radars programs – the APG-79 flying on the F/A-18E/F, the EA-18G and the and APG-63(V)3 flying on F-15C platforms. Originally this radar was designated APG-63(V)4. The modification of the first aircraft took six months and involved members from Boeing, Raytheon and 46th Technical Support Squadron and OFP CTF. Serial improvements of operational F-15Es is expected to become much faster through. The new radar is designed to be inserted as a ‘plug-in-play’ system, introducing much improved performance with higher reliability derived from solid-state technology, fewer moving parts and newer, easily replaceable modules.

Other AESA radars are already operational on the F-15s. Singapore was the first F-15E user to adapt the APG-63(V)3 AESA radar with its F-15SG. The U.S. Air Force is equipping F-15C/Ds with the APG-63(V)3. Another user selecting this radar is Saudi-Arabia, to equip all the 84 new F-15SA with AESA technology.