LINTHICUM HEIGHTS, Md.–While the U.S. Air Force has installed the Northrop Grumman [NOC] AN/APG-83 scalable agile beam radar (SABR) on dozens of Air National Guard F-16s, the service also equips F-15E Strike Eagle and F-16 Viper fighters with the Northrop Grumman Active Electronically Scanned Array AN/ASQ-236 “Dragon’s Eye” side-looking, air-to-ground mapping radar pod.
“We’re still doing some upgrade testing on that [ASQ-236],” said Dan “Dix” Dixon, director of flight test engineering here for Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and a former F/A-18 pilot and commander of the Navy Fighter Weapons School at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev.
The ASQ-236, carried on the F-16 center line, benefits combat pilots because “typically, you’re constrained by going at your target, if you wanna draw a picture of it with your radar, and then I’m closing on something that may not be friendly to me,” he said.
“We get good feedback from operators [on the ASQ-236],” Dixon said.
Last November, Northrop Grumman said that an Air National Guard F-16 flew with the Dragon’s Eye pod for the first time (Defense Daily, Nov. 19, 2021).
The Dragon’s Eye is a Ku-band Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar pod to provide aircrews with all-weather, multi-target detection, track and engagement. The pod is operational on the F-15E and plans call for the pod’s integration on Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve F-16s, Northrop Grumman has said. The company also integrated the pod on an Air Force Special Operations Command AC-130 gunship and an Air Force Global Strike Command B-52 bomber for a proof of concept demonstration.
Northrop Grumman said last year that the Dragon’s Eye will help F-16 pilots detect, track, and identify targets more quickly and that the pod has “advanced radar modes” and “is rapidly adaptable to new platforms.”
The Air Force has said that it began developing the 1,000 pound ASQ-236 with Northrop Grumman in the late 1990s for all-weather precision geo-location and reconnaissance, coordinate generation and bomb impact assessment.
Air Combat Command (ACC) said on Nov. 4 that a “limited number” of Air National Guard F-16s have the ASQ-236 pods but that “all F-16 Blocks 40/42/50/52 will be modified in the next few years with the hardware necessary to load and employ the pod.”
The Air Force has said that it fielded the first pod on the F-15E in June, 2009 but that the number of fielded ASQ-236s is classified.
“Information concerning the design, development, and production of the ASQ-236 is classified to protect critical technologies and improved operational capabilities,” per the Air Force. “By leveraging the technology development associated with the F-22 Raptor, the [ASQ-236] will enhance all-weather precision geo-location and provide greater surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities supporting current and future operations.”
Northrop Grumman flight tests radars and radar pods here on its “flying lab”–a modified Bombardier CRJ-700 regional jet. To test the SABR, for example, the company can put an F-16 nose on the flying lab.
ACC said on Nov. 4 that 500 F-16s are to receive SABR and that the command has received about 115 APG-83s “and installed roughly 100+ of them on F-16s so far.”
SABR stemmed from U.S. Northern Command’s issuance in 2017 of a Joint Emergent Operational Need for homeland defense to provide better detect and track capability against Russian cruise missiles.
In December, 2019, the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a contract potentially worth $1 billion for 372 APG-83 SABR radars.