F-16s receive radar system upgrades

SEPTEMBER 9, 2022 – The 480th Fighter Squadron is now the first active duty Air Force F-16CM fighter squadron to usher its fighter fleet into a new era of air dominance with the completion of its radar active electronically scanned array (AESA) system upgrades.

“Delivering this capability on an aircraft that is already time-tested and combat-proven adds another layer to the Air Force’s capabilities in an ever-changing electronic warfare environment,” said the Air Force Chief of Staff. Air Force Maj. Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. “I know this upgrade will make us even more effective in our day-to-day combat operations, and I look forward to taking the F-16 even further in the future of air superiority.

This capability provides fourth-generation multirole combat aircraft a huge leap forward in combat capabilities, making pilots even more effective than ever, while improving air defenses and the aircraft’s overall survivability against enemy forces.

“This is an upgrade to modernize the F-16 primarily with its sensors, starting with its radar,” said 480th Fighter Squadron commander Lt. Col. Shaun Loomis. “Radar itself is a game-changer. Going from mechanical scanning radar to EASA is night and day.

Compared to its predecessor, AESA’s improved systems carry more transmitters, resulting in more accurate, longer-range scanning and more resistant to airspace jamming.

Legacy radar systems have received many software updates and upgrades since they were first installed on the aircraft, but this project provides an entirely new set of hardware with a wide range of advantages over its predecessor.

Additionally, this project aims to improve pilots’ visibility of the battlespace by laying the foundation for the aircraft’s targeting module to stream high-definition video into the cockpit, an improvement over smaller monitors and at lower resolution from before.

“The F-16 radar has been around since the late 1980s, and while this radar receives updates from time to time, there hasn’t been a specific hardware update for about 20 years,” said Loomis. “In fact, swapping out and installing an all-new radar is revolutionary for the F-16. Along with that, we’re upgrading our displays in the cockpit. It’s an improvement in radar capability, but also an improvement in interoperability. with the pilot.

Before the Valkyries of Royal Air Force Lakenheath’s 495th Fighter Squadron received their first F-35 Lightning IIs in December 2021, the 480th FS Warhawks were reputedly the only Air Force Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) squadron in the US Air Force. in Europe-Air Forces Africa. In the SEAD role, these units provide air power operations to NATO, US European Command and Africa Command and perform a critical Allied air superiority function.

The addition of AESA to the Warhawk arsenal further increases the ability of the Air Force and combat commanders to respond to a wider range of threats in the region.

In the current environment, Loomis said the AESA system is essential to further reduce limitations against not only enemy fighter jets but also cruise missiles, further strengthening base defenses in the region.

Fleet modernization
The first completion of this upgrade came shortly after the 480th FS returned from 86th Air Base in Romania, where it deployed eight Fighting Falcons to support ongoing enhanced air policing operations along the eastern flank of NATO in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine.

However, the project began long before deployment, with the Air Force signing the program’s initial contract in December 2021.
Yet due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing program delays, Capt. Thomas Dequeant, 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director of operations, said the 52nd Fighter Wing’s first upgrade maintenance officially started only at the beginning of April.

This was no ordinary parts swap, however. The pieces weren’t just fancy; they were intertwined throughout the plane.
Additionally, maintenance to replace aging systems was so extensive that aircraft maintainers and aviators had over 200 operational checks to ensure the safety and efficiency of the upgraded jets and their pilots.

“It’s had pretty extensive maintenance,” Dequeant said. “They stripped it down to the studs and replaced it with upgrades.”
When the F-22 Raptor first reached Initial Operational Capability in late 2005, it ushered in the fifth-generation aircraft revolution, forever changing the air battlefield and setting a precedent for air dominance. air force airspace.

A decade later, the Raptor’s multirole successor, the F-35 Lightning II, continued that legacy and advanced the electronics field by incorporating a new range of sensors and even more sophisticated technology.

Despite their impressive hardware and software, these new planes carry extra baggage – their price and the total number of the Air Force fleet. That’s where Loomis said this new radar system comes in.

“It’s a scaled upgrade of the F-16,” Loomis said. “This is one of many steps they are taking to upgrade the F-16. We know that the F-16 will be a large preponderance of the fighter force for the next 20 years as they will continue to produce F-35s. The F-16 is scheduled to be in the Air Force until the mid-2040s. It will continue to be a workhorse for the Air Force because it has the numbers the Army of Air needs. In addition to numbers, you must have abilities.

Additionally, Loomis said the upgrade brings the decades-old technology of the F-16 into the 2020s, modernizing legacy fighters while striking a critical balance between sustainment and revitalization against adversary nations.

History by Tech. sergeant. Mason Elleman
52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs