The F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet’s current radar is Raytheon’s all-weather, multimode AN/APG-73, but the revolutionary new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) APG-79 radar offers significantly greater capability, reliability, image resolution, and range. Unlike the “mechanically scanned” APG-73, the APG-79’s AESA array is composed of numerous solid-state transmit and receive modules that are fixed in place, eliminating a common cause of breakdowns. Other system components include an advanced receiver/exciter, ruggedized commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) processor, and power supplies. With its open systems architecture and compact COTS parts, it changes what the aircrew can do with the radar – and does so in a smaller, lighter package.
Boeing and Raytheon debuted the F/A-18F Block II Super Hornet equipped with the AN/APG-79 AESA radar system at a St. Louis ceremony in April 2005. That was the first step toward fulfilling the Navy’s roadmap to expand the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s capabilities for future operations. In October 2006, the first Super Hornet Block II squadron attained the requisite “safe for flight” designation, certifying that they were ready for independent operations with the new equipment. The radar will also be featured on the USA’s related EA-18G Growler electronic jamming aircraft, as it enters service…
The AN/APG-79 AESA Radar
Featuring a fixed array with active electronic beam scanning that scans near the speed of light, the AESA will, for the first time, enable pilot and crew to conduct simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-surface operations. In air-to-air mode, the radar allows targets to be engaged at very long ranges, permitting weapons launch at maximum range to take full advantage of new longer-range air-air missiles and air-ground weapons. The system also offers high-resolution ground mapping at long standoff ranges for air-to-surface tracking’ its high-resolution SAR (synthetic aperture radar) images can be used to designate multiple targets at once, or identify unplanned ground targets and engage them. Prior to the introduction of the APG-79 radar, it had only been possible for pre-mission planned ground targets to be attacked.
AESA radars have a number of additional advantages, some of which are being publicized as time goes on. In addition to having no moving parts that serve as sources of failure, AESA radars’ inherent redundancy allows them to fly and perform well even if some of the individual modules need replacing. They also have the potential to perform offensive electronic warfare functions, high-bandwidth communications, and probably a few more capabilities that the government prefers not to talk about yet.
Since the original contract award in 2001, the APG-79 program has met all its milestones on time, and the system has performed well in flight tests.
The AN/APG-79 radar will replace Raytheon’s AN/APG-73 on the new F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet Block II aircraft, and equip the derivative EA-18G “Growler” electronic warfare aircraft as they enter service. The U.S. Navy plans to buy over 400 APG-79 AESA systems, and potential foreign sales span 7 countries now using the F/A-18 aircraft; Australia’s purchase of 24 F/A-18F Block II aircraft made them the radar’s first foreign customer.
For additional history on this program, click here.