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Power in the cockpit: A pilot's-eye view of air dominance

An F-35 fires an AMRAAM missile during a test off the California coast on Oct. 30, 2013 (U.S. Air Force photo)

Time was running out for Cesar “Rico” Rodriguez and the rest of the NATO fighter pilots. They’d pulled off a surprise strike on a Serbian surface-to-air missile site, but the attack was dragging on – and the enemy was about to hit back.

Rodriguez picked up an enemy fighter streaking north from Pristina. It was almost close enough to attack. Rodriguez fired his weapon – Raytheon’s Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile – and watched a fireball light up the night as the missile found its target.

“Had I not had an AMRAAM, I would have had to get closer to my air-to-air threat, which puts me into his weapons engagement zone,” Rodriguez said, recalling that night in March 1999. “This is all about life and death.”

For pilots like Rodriguez, Raytheon’s missiles, radars, jammers, avionics and other systems are more than just equipment – they’re the key to air superiority and a guarantee that allied air forces can control the skies.

They include the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) – chosen last year by the Republic of Korea to upgrade its F-16 fleet – and the MALD-J, a tiny jammer that can fly 500 miles by itself. The company recently delivered its 1,000th MALD-J.

MALD is a flexible and modular system that keeps aviators and aircraft out of harm’s way.

Raytheon has been chosen to develop the Next Generation Jammer for the U.S. Navy's EA-18G Growler aircraft, and already produces the Joint Standoff Weapon, a winged munition that can glide 80 miles.

“The combatant commanders are not looking for the yesterday weapons to be on the front of the battle plan,” said Rodriguez, who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a colonel and now works as director of business strategy for Raytheon’s Air Warfare Systems in Tucson, Ariz. “He’s looking for the leading-edge technologies — the AMRAAMs, the AIM-9Xs, the MALDs, to be on the leading edge of the battle space and winning that first encounter with the enemy.”

Rodriguez fired his AMRAAM from an F-15, but the missile has been added to the arsenal of other aircraft as well – the F-16, the F/A-18, the F-22, Typhoon, Gripen, Tornado and Harrier – a key advantage as the U.S. and its allies strive to make their warplanes work better together.

The Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar, similarly compatible with various aircraft, offers pilots detailed images of ground targets at the same time it scans the skies for potentially hostile fighter jets.

The Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar in the nose of an F-16.

“You’re basically tracking more bandits – airborne threats – and then you’re capturing air-to-ground targeting data simultaneously,” said Michael “Ponch” Garcia, a former U.S. Navy pilot and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran.

In the past, he said, pilots seeking to strike ground targets first had to focus on securing the airspace en route. Now, he said, they can see detailed images of the target at the same time they’re clearing the air.

“Now with the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) he’s able to conduct the strike mission at the same time as he’s conducting his fighter mission, and do so in a manner that doesn’t include overtasking or the pilot being inundated with cockpit actions,” said Garcia, who now works at Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems.

“It’s feeding the situational awareness to the pilot in a manner that’s easily digestable but also touching the air-to-air and air-to-ground mission simultaneously,” he said.

Published: 06/11/2014

Last Updated: 08/17/2015

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