Farnborough Air Show

Raytheon launches low-cost advanced combat radar system

 - July 12, 2008, 3:56 AM

Raytheon is launching here at Farnborough the latest member of its growing family of AESA (active electronically scanned antenna) radars. Known as the Raytheon advanced combat radar (RACR, “racer”), the new sensor is aimed at both the retrofit market, for aircraft such as the F-16, F/A-18 and others, or for installation in new-build fighters.

RACR draws heavily on Raytheon’s experience in building AESA radars for the F-15 Eagle (APG-63(V)2/3/4) and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (APG-79). The radar leverages technology from existing programs and uses many existing components. Scaling the antenna’s mounting plate and transmit/receive module array to different radome sizes is a straightforward process.

The company had previously proposed the Raytheon advanced next-generation radar (RANGR, “ranger”). Like RACR, RANGR was a scalable AESA radar offered to fit aircraft such as the F-16, but it required dedicated power and cooling systems, in turn necessitating considerable intrusion into the existing aircraft.

RACR differs by offering the same levels of capability with minimum intrusion. It is designed to work with the existing power and cooling systems. Without the need for dedicated support equipment, RACR is therefore cheaper to acquire and much easier to install.

Bringing down the cost makes RACR an attractive proposition for air arms looking to upgrade the functionality of their fighter fleets without the expense of buying new aircraft. RACR effectively gives fifth-generation capabilities to fourth-generation fighters. Raytheon will not comment on expected costs, other than to note that they have been reduced to the point where AESA becomes a competitive option to traditional mechanically-scanned systems. Furthermore, the AESA antenna is cheaper to own because of its improved reliability.

Apart from the significant benefits offered by AESA in traditional radar modes, the new technology offers important additions in functionality, especially in the areas of electronic warfare and communications. “It allows aircraft to be networked in,” said Mike Henchey, Raytheon’s director of strategy and business development, tactical airborne systems. “The antenna becomes a node in the network. It can share data in a high-speed way, sending SAR maps in a few milliseconds. We have demonstrated a rate of 274 Mb per second. When you combine the antenna with an advanced RWR system like the ALR-69, you get a dramatic increase in capability.” Raytheon is demonstrating the ability of AESA to achieve high data transfer rates here at Farnborough. 

Raytheon sees a huge potential market for RACR, both at home and overseas. Although aimed squarely at the vast worldwide F-16 fleet, it could also benefit the F/A-18 Hornet and other tactical aircraft.  The U.S. Navy and overseas customers will operate “legacy” Hornets for many years, and RACR offers a means to raise their standard to state-of-the-art. The radar could also be applied to the earliest batch of Super Hornets that were built without the option of fitting AESA.

As AESA radars appear in growing numbers in the battlespace, it is becoming increasingly desirable to attain an “all-AESA” fleet to maximize commonality of capability and connectivity. This not only applies to the U.S. fleet, but also to partners in future coalition operations.

RACR competes head-to-head with Northrop Grumman’s SABR, revealed at the Singapore air show in February. While NG serves as the incumbent radar provider in the F-16, Dave Goold, business development director for F/A-18 programs, points to Raytheon’s “hot production line and proven capabilities” as key factors in its favor. In the only open competition between AESA radars in the U.S. to date–to provide the next-generation of F-15E radars–Raytheon won.

Raytheon has already fit-checked RACR with an engineering fidelity model installed in an F-16. It aims to fly a working RACR soon, probably in a company testbed at first.
However, the functionality of the company’s AESAs is already known, and the concept is proven. The components and technology already exist, and RACR is effectively available now. “We’re ready to go as soon as they’re ready to buy,” said Henchey.   

Navy Upgrades Going Smoothly

With the U.S. Navy’s first Super Hornet squadron equipped with the APG-79 AESA radar (VFA-22) now at sea, Raytheon celebrated the delivery of the 100th radar (of 437 contracted) two weeks ago. So far the company has delivered on time or ahead of schedule, despite moving production from El Segundo to a new Consolidated Manufacturing Center at Forest, Mississippi. The Forest site is now producing more than 42 radar sets annually. Last December Raytheon received the first contract to retrofit Block 2 Super Hornets with APG-79 AESA. The aircraft were built with the necessary fitments for AESA, but initially had mechanically scanned antennas. The first contract involves 19 upgrade sets for delivery from 2010. Further rolling contracts will cover the entire 135-aircraft Block 2 fleet.