By Geoff Fein

Raytheon [RTN] continues to explore opportunities for its Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, but the focus of the advanced radar remains the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, a company official said.

Last July, the first Super Hornet squadron equipped with AESA was deployed board the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). In the 10 months since that initial deployment, a second squadron has deployed to the Reagan.

Both deployments went extremely well, Dave Goold, Raytheon business development director for F-18 programs, told Defense Daily in a recent interview.

Now the Navy is looking at the first deployment where there will be two squadrons, equipped with AESA, on the same ship, Goold said. “That will happen soon, with the Reagan.”

The reports coming back from the first two deployments are showing that AESA is not only doing exceedingly well operationally, but is demonstrating strong reliability, Goold added.

“We have over tens of thousands of hours on the software that has been employed and our meantime between failure has exceeded our expectations of where we are in the program at this point in time,” he said. “It’s like 200 percent greater than the existing mechanically scanned systems as far as meantime between failure.

“It’s really doing well. It’s holding up in the harsh environment on the carrier, and those reliability numbers are since we started delivering low-rate initial production units,” Goold added. “Since that time, the total number of systems we have delivered is about 145.”

The first EA-18G squadron, Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., has begun flying with AESA, Goold noted.

And the first international system for the Royal Australian Air Force will be delivered to Boeing [BA] this month for installation on Australia’s Super Hornets, he added. “They will be delivered ahead of schedule.”

Raytheon is also under contract to deliver 38 AESA systems for retrofit onto Block II Super Hornets. Goold pointed out there are 133 Block II aircraft that were delivered to the Navy with mechanically scanned systems. “We are under contract for 38 of those 133. We had an increment of 19 last year, we are getting an increment of 19 systems this year and then we ill negotiate with Navy to finish off the rest.”

And Raytheon is working closely with both the Navy and Boeing to look at technology insertion and upgrades to AESA, per the service’s flight plan, Goold said.

But that doesn’t mean Raytheon hasn’t looked at other capabilities that AESA brings to the warfighter, Goold added.

Raytheon demonstrated using AESA as a communication device during the 2007 Paris Air Show, Goold added. “We are continuing to develop that. AESA does have so many various uses.”

“We are finding that as the Navy pilots and air crews get their hands on this radar and expanding the envelope with it, they are finding new and unique ways to employ it, that maybe the normal process had not thought about,” he said. “The more it is going to get used, the more innovative ways they are going to find of employing the system.”

Although the company’s focus is on providing AESA to Super Hornets, that doesn’t mean Raytheon is limiting its opportunities to just the F/A-18E/F, Goold noted.

For example, Raytheon has been looking to add a new seeker to the nose of its Tomahawk cruise missile, enabling it to pursue maritime moving targets. To do that, the cruise missile will need a new seeker.

“We have several candidates out there, but the most promising is AESA,” Everett Tackett, Raytheon’s business development manager for Tomahawk, told Defense Daily in April (Defense Daily, May 1).

Goold noted the beauty of AESA is its adaptability to many different applications.

“As you take the basic array and expand it or make it smaller based on the size, weight, power cooling that’s available, you are going to find a whole range of applications for this…as small as one-time use applications like Tomahawk, as well as high altitude UAVs, to helicopter applications to other aircraft applications,” he said. “That gets back to…the technology innovation scheme and that the AESA system is adaptable and scalable to multiple platforms. I am not just talking fighters. We have demonstrated the capability on bomber-sized platforms. We are doing tactical fighter-sized platforms and, of course, we will be looking at the range of those plus smaller and more non-traditional platforms that need radar technology.”

The proof of the company’s commitment to AESA, and finding alternative uses and platforms, is that Raytheon no longer builds any mechanically scanned arrays systems, Goold said.

“We only manufacture AESA. There are other companies that still manufacture mechanically scanned [arrays] and attempting to manufacture AESA…I am talking globally here,” he said.

And the possible uses for AESA are not limited to aircraft, Goold said.

Raytheon has also been looking at a shipboard variant of its famed radar system.

“We are continuing to look at it…[working] with the potential customer on a response or application for them that could be based on AESA technology,” he said. “Obviously, the reuse factor based on the customer would be important. You want to have commonality in your system, so that whether they are in the nose of an airplane or possibly put onto a ship, you’d want to have as much commonality as possible to get the cost benefit from it.

“The beauty of a radar like this…it’s platform agnostic. If a customer comes to us with a platform, and based on U.S. government policy it has an opportunity to have AESA put into it, we’d be willing to discuss that,” Goold added.