Northrop Grumman [NOC] said on Oct. 15 that its AN/APG-83 scalable agile beam radar (SABR) for U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters by Lockheed Martin [LMT] has achieved “full operational capability (FOC) readiness,” but Air Combat Command (ACC) said on Oct. 22 that it has yet to declare FOC for the radar.
“ACC has not declared FOC for the APG-83 F-16 AESA radar at this time,” Alexandra Worley, an ACC spokeswoman wrote in an email. “That’s all the information we can provide at this time.”
The radar is to provide 5th generation radar features akin to those on the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35 for the legacy fighter, which first flew in 1974.
Such new, Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) features include beyond line of sight, longer range air-to-air and air-to-ground targeting of multiple targets, such as air defense radars and cruise/surface to air missiles, and all-weather, high-resolution, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) ground mapping for improved strike.
Last December, the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a contract potentially worth $1 billion for 372 of the radars. The first jets receiving the radars are 72 Air National Guard (ANG) F-16s in response to a Joint Emergent Operational Need from U.S. Northern Command in 2017 for homeland defense to provide better detect and track capability against Russian cruise missiles.
“The AN/APG-83 AESA is now an official program of record for both the active and reserve U.S. Air Force as well as the [Air National] Guard after the service procured units in February for Air Combat Command and Air Force Reserve F-16 aircraft,” Northrop Grumman said on Oct. 15.
In January, ANG F-16s at Joint Base Andrews, Md., received the first APG-83 radars. F-16s at three other ANG bases–Atlantic City Air National Guard Base, N.J.; McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C.; and Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls, S.D. have also received the radars, per Northrop Grumman. The Air Force began the latest installations at Joe Foss Field on Sept. 7, the company said. Five other ANG bases are also to receive the radars, according to Northrop Grumman, but Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) could not provide a list of those bases by press time on Oct. 15.
The APG-83-equipped F-16s from Joint Base Andrews flew in DoD’s Guardian Shield 20-02 exercise on Sept. 21-25 in what the Air Force said was “the largest live-fly cruise missile defense exercise ever held by the Department of Defense.” During the exercise, the F-16s, along with F-22s and Boeing [BA] F-15s, flew to defend Wallops Island, Va., against a force of Northrop Grumman T-38 Talon and Aero Vodochody L-159 Honey Badger aircraft simulating cruise missile attacks.
The more than 50 aircraft in Guardian Shield 20-02 also included Air Force Reserve KC-135 and KC-46 tankers from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.
“Each day, the scenario was made more difficult in order to validate TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) against current threats while also building tactics to address emerging adversary capabilities,” the Air Force said.
Lt. Col. Christopher Wilson, commander of the 121st Fighter Squadron of the D.C. Air National Guard 113th Wing, said in a statement that “NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility served as the simulated austere environment where we had our expert maintenance personnel rapidly regenerate aircraft by refueling and rearming them.”
“We tested how quickly we could get those aircraft airborne again in order to generate combat air power in a contingency environment,” he said.
Procurement of the APG-83 radars for F-16 modernization looks to continue in the coming years.
The House Appropriations Committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 funding bill added $75 million for the procurement of the APG-83 radars for the ANG.
The AESA program for the F-16s may cost $1.8 billion overall, as the F-16s are also to receive upgradable software to extend F-16 service life for another 20 years and to ease F-16 operations in electronic warfare-contested environments.
On July 2, the Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force, 40th Flight Test Squadron and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla., for the first time tested the APG-83 in a four-ship formation to see how the radar would perform in combat, whether there was any radar interference, and whether the formation improved or degraded the individual aircraft’s radar signals.
The APG-83 radar, which allows detection out to 65 nautical miles, is one of 13 F-16 simultaneous upgrades for the F-16 fleet, which has not seen new hardware in years, according to pilots. Such other upgrades include a Lockheed Martin automatic ground-collision avoidance system(AGCAS), the Raytheon Technologies [RTX] ALR-69A digital radar warning receiver, the Advanced Identification Friend or Foe Mode 5 NATO standard, and a communications suite upgrade for the Collins Aerospace [RTX] ARC-210 satellite communications radios in F-16s.
While the F-16 AESA upgrade was envisioned to cost $1 million per aircraft, the decline in radar competitors has meant that the cost has ballooned per plane, according to the Teal Group.
Just two companies–Northrop Grumman and Raytheon–build big ticket military radars.