By Geoff Fein

Raytheon [RTN] last week celebrated the delivery of its 100th APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar to the Navy, further demonstrating that the company is successfully delivering the system to the fleet, a company official said.

The delivery of the 100th AESA comes one month after the company saw the first operational deployment of its APG-79. That occurred when VFA–22, the first AESA-equipped Block II Super Hornet Squadron, deployed from Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., to the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) , Dave Goold, Raytheon business development director for F-18 programs, told reporters during teleconference last week.

“And, we recently delivered as part of the Hornet industry team, the first EA-18G to the fleet up at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.,” Goold added. “That occurred on June 3.”

AESA is on both the Boeing [BA] Block II F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler.

In April, Raytheon has also bid AESA for India’s multi-role combat aircraft. The company is also working with the Royal Australian Air Force on their purchase of Super Hornets, Goold added.

The 100th AESA also marks the effective transition of AESA production to Raytheon’s center of excellence in Forest, Miss.

“Why that is significant and why it has done so well, this is an extremely complex system yet that transfer of production and deliveries to Boeing has gone off extremely smoothly…no disruption to our line and it has allowed us to continue to deliver Super Hornets ahead of schedule to the Navy,” Mike Gibbons, acting deputy F/A-18 and EA-18 program manager, told reporters.

“As has been our record on the entire Super Hornet program, and with the Navy facing their shortfall of strike fighters and that shortfall continuing to increase as you look forward, that is extremely important for us and our teammate Raytheon to continue to perform as we have done in the past,” he added.

VFA-22 is the first Block II Super Hornet squadron to receive AESA. The Navy plan calls for backfitting AESA on to all Block II Super Hornets, Jeff Ayers, Boeing F/A-18 AESA program manager, told reporters.

The Navy will buy 135 AESA systems for Block II lot 26 and above Super Hornets. Raytheon did receive the first contract to upgrade those aircraft in December 2007, Goold noted. That contract was for 19 systems, he added. The Navy will then make annual buys of those radars to be retrofitted into the lot 26 and above aircraft.

Goold added that the Navy’s plan to procure all 135 systems for the retrofit extends out over six years.

“Those Block II were designed from the outset to accommodate AESA and fully leverage all the AESA capabilities,” Ayers said.

However, there is no intent right now to retrofit pre-Block II Super Hornets, Gibbons added. “That would be cost prohibitive.”

Retrofitting AESA to pre-block II Super Hornets would require a substantial modification to the aircraft, Ayers noted.

AESA radar is the cornerstone of all the advanced capabilities Boeing brought to the Block II Super Hornets, which was rolled out a several years ago, Gibbons said.

The Block II Super Hornet, like all Super Hornets, has the signature reduction aspects, but it also has with AESA radar long-range detection and long-range kill capabilities with the weapons the aircraft carries to defend itself or avoid threats, Gibbons added.

There were some changes made to the Block II Super Hornet to accommodate AESA, Ayers said.

“[We] redesigned the forward fuselage of the airplane to integrate AESA. We added a high-speed network, made some changes to the engines and cooling system to accommodate the increased power output of AESA, and made substantial changes to the missions system in the aircraft in order of hundreds of thousands of lines of code to fully exploit AESA capabilities,” he said.

“Some of those capabilities it brings are independent front seat and aft seat operations. The pilot can be in an air-to-air mode while the back-seater is in an air-to-surface mode. And those mods we made to the Block II Super Hornet enabled us to fully leverage those capabilities,” Ayers added.

Boeing has a very specific roadmap on how it will keep the Super Hornet and Growler incrementally improved over the years. The roadmap has improvements for AESA, Gibbons said.

“AESA was designed with quite a bit of growth capability in mind–additional processing power, exploiting its strong power output for doing electronic warfare, as well as acting as a sensor. Those are on the roadmap for AESA,” he said.

The flight plan for the Block II Super Hornet includes infrared search and track pods, additional growth in data correlation and data fusion, additional advanced weapons, different communications and communications links, Gibbons said.

“It is a very busy matrix of capabilities that are going to be added to keep that Block II Super Hornet increasing in capability and relevance,” he added.

AESA is also a significant component of the Navy’s EA-18G electronic warfare (EW), electronic attack aircraft, Ayers said.

“Every EA-18G carries an AESA. The EA mods we make as part of the flight plan for AESA will translate to Es, Fs and Gs, so they will augment the full spectrum countermeasures that the G has with the very potent countermeasures and the frequency of interest that the AESA operates,” he explained.

Some of the other capabilities that are being added are large-scale Synthetic Aperture Radar maps, Ayers added.

“Much larger maps will be able to be produced on the Block II Super Hornet and the Block II Super Hornet has increased storage capability and large displays that will be able to exploit that information as well,” Ayers said. “Basically, in a nutshell, the AESA is kind of the heart of the flight plan.”