Flying changed forever for pilot Michael “Ponch” Garcia on the day he first touched the controls of a plane equipped with Raytheon’s electronically scanned radar. Enemies appeared more clearly. Terrain looked crisper. Help seemed closer.
“It was a game-changing experience,” Garcia said. “You see more of everything. You see at greater ranges, you see with greater accuracy, you see things sooner.”
“Taking action before the threat is even aware of the pilot’s presence is a huge advantage.”
This week Raytheon is giving the world a look at its family of active electronically scanned array radars at the Farnborough International Air Show. The lineup includes an export-ready version, the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar, that promises to give new life to hundreds of F-16 and F-18 fighters deployed around the world.
Unlike mechanically scanned radars, which use a gimbaled mount to point at a target, AESA (pronounced ay-ees-ah) guides radar beams electronically (view interactive). These radars can look many places at once, see two or three times farther and operate 10 to 15 times longer without maintenance.
Because the new radars can track multiple targets simultaneously, pilots receive more information and can make decisions quickly and with confidence. High-resolution ground-mapping modes allow the pilot to stay beyond the reach of surface-to-air weapons.
More than once, the new radar allowed Garcia, a fighter pilot, to avoid mid-air collisions during close-range flying, he said.
“I recall seeing airborne contacts on my AESA radar screen while I was heads down building ground maps that I could’ve sworn should not be there, only to look up and realize that a close pass would’ve developed had the radar not provided that situational awareness,” Garcia said. “With the previous generation radars I would have been blind to the other traffic.”
In air-to-air combat, the new radars allow pilots to attack before opponents even see them coming.
“When aircraft are flying with up to 1,000 knots of closure, the stakes are high,” Garcia said. “Taking action before the threat is even aware of the pilot’s presence is a huge advantage.”
Before the new technology, pilots were able to see only in limited sectors or in one role at a time, making them more vulnerable. With radar range limited, pilots frequently put themselves in danger to get a better look.
“With AESA, the increased range and functionality allow the pilot to focus on the mission instead of the radar mechanics,” Garcia said.