Dominating the skies
Four pilots give their perspective on new weapons, radars
Every fighter pilot gets a call sign – a locker-room nickname to ease the tension of high-stakes missions. For Jeffrey Alan White, Sr., his was easy to come up with: His initials spelled “Jaws.”
By the time he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006, “Jaws” had stalked targets with the most advanced aircraft, radars and missiles in the world. But those state-of-the-art systems from the Iraq- and Afghanistan-era pale in comparison, he says, to what is rolling off assembly lines now.
"No one would want to challenge our pilots to a dogfight,” said White, now a retired business development manager at Raytheon Missile Systems.
Many of the newest weapons, radars and jammers retain the names of tried-and-true systems. But they’re far from the products of the past, with major improvements in target acquisition, precision and reliability in any battlefield conditions.
"These are the finest air weapons on Earth today and probably will be for a long, long time," said Anthony "Spike" Valentino, a former U.S. Marine Corps aviator and current director of business development for Raytheon Missile Systems. "The names are the same for the most part. However, the capabilities and upgrades are phenomenal."
AMRAAM® AIM-120D Missile
The newest version of Raytheon's Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile features increased range, GPS-aided navigation and a two-way data link. The AIM-120D recently achieved two milestones: The U.S. Air Force successfully tested the missile in realistic combat conditions, and the U.S. Navy achieved "initial operational capability" on the weapon after extensive flight testing on the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet aircraft. The Navy plans to deploy with the AIM-120D later this year.
A new weapon, the StormBreaker bomb, glides to its target and sees through fog, smoke and rain to hit moving and stationary targets. Its seeker operates in three modes: the millimeter wave radar detects and tracks targets in any weather, the imaging infrared provides better target discrimination, and the semi-active laser seeker allows the weapon to follow either an airborne laser designator or one on the ground.
The StormBreaker bomb entered operational testing in 2018.
AIM-9X® Block II Missile
The new AIM-9X Block II missile, the latest variant of the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, features upgrades including a redesigned fuze and a digital ignition device that allows better ground handling and in-flight safety.
The missile is a favorite of fighter pilots because it's what they call a “fire-and-forget” weapon. They can launch it from afar and let the seeker do the rest.
“You can launch an AIM-9X missile without the missile seeker locked onto the target, and the weapon data link will point the missile to where the target is,” said Stephen “Hutch” Andersen – “Hutch” as in “Starsky & Hutch” – a former U.S. Air Force F-15 pilot who now works for Raytheon Missile Systems. “It will guide the missile toward the target until its own onboard seeker can acquire the target and then finish the end game on its own.”
Forty nations use AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles.
Laser Maverick® Missile
The new Laser Maverick missile features a digital laser seeker and software that reduces the risk of collateral damage. It is the latest version of the AGM-65 Maverick missile, a precision attack missile used by the air, naval and marine forces of 30 countries. The missile can engage moving targets on land and at sea.
“We loved the Maverick missile,” White said. “It gets there fast.”
The original Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD® defense decoy, had one job: create ghost planes to fool enemy radars.
Its successor, MALD-J, has two: not only does it duplicate combat flight profiles and signatures of U.S. and allied aircraft, but it also jams enemy electronics. It operates much closer to enemy radar than conventional electronic warfare systems, allowing pilots and planes to stay far from the fray.
HARM Control Section Modification is an upgrade to Raytheon’s HARM® high-speed anti-radiation missile, which was designed to suppress or destroy surface-to-air missile radar and radar-directed air defense artillery.
“We launched a lot of HARM missiles in Desert Storm, but then they shut their radar off and who knows where they hid in the desert,” White said.
That’s where the upgrade comes in: If enemies shut down their radar, it doesn’t matter: the weapon already has the location and can pursue the target.
Proven Track Record
U.S. and allied fighters have fired Raytheon missiles in every fight of the past 25 years, including Operation Odyssey Dawn, the NATO-led effort against the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Carried by aircraft and launched from submarines and ships, more than 200 Tomahawk missiles were fired to take out Libyan air defense forces, followed by HARM missiles, laser-guided Maverick missiles and Paveway® bombs.
After the military operation in Libya, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Ghosh – call sign “DFAC,” as in “dining facility,” because he likes to eat – visited Raytheon and provided a debrief. He said the company’s APG-79 radar gave him superior “situational awareness” – a military term for knowing exactly where all your friends and foes are.
“When you are sitting in the cockpit of the plane today, you are aware of your surroundings, your threats, your friendlies, your unknowns – more than you could have ever dreamed of before,” said Ghosh, who flew the EA-18G Growler in active duty. He is now a reservist and F/A-18 business development lead for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems.
The APG-79 uses near-speed-of-light electronic beam scanning to show pilots what’s in the air as well as what’s on the surface. It is in full-rate production for the U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growler, F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet Fleets. Raytheon also provides active electronically scanned array, or AESA, radars for U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagles.
Legacy Radar Upgrades
Raytheon's AESA-based APG-79(V)X and APG-84 advanced combat radars serve global militaries looking to upgrade older fighter planes. The radars are designed to slip easily into an aircraft’s nose cone – a simple retrofit that takes less than an hour and can happen in the field.
Along with additional advanced systems such as the AN/ALR-67(V)3 Radar Warning Receiver, the technology helps nations get new life from legacy aircraft including F-16 and F/A-18 in a time of dwindling defense budgets.
AESA technology will bring precision, power and speed to the Next Generation Jammer, an electronic warfare system Raytheon is developing to replace the legacy ALQ-99 jammers on the U.S. Navy's EA-18G Growler aircraft. The jammer will combine powerful, agile beam-jamming techniques with cutting-edge solid-state electronics and an open architecture to allow future upgrades.
The system is set to fly on the Growler fleet in 2021.
“It will bring an AESA ability, which is very critical for things like beam steering, beam shaping,” said Ghosh. “It’s just a whole paradigm shift in that sense.”
With the Next Generation Jammer in development and the world's most sophisticated weapons and radars already outfitting modern aircraft, today's warfighters are better poised than ever to take to the skies and get home safely.
“If we had back then what these guys have today, there would only be one Air Force in the world because no one would have touched us,” Andersen said. “It would have given a whole new meaning to the words ‘air superiority.’”