Bridging the generation gap
Raytheon is arming the F-35 with advanced tech and modernizing 4th-gen fighter aircraft
Jim "Meegs" Meger was in the cockpit of an A-10 Warthog, closing in on Pristina, Kosovo, when a burst of high-pitched noise hit his ear.
It was a tone from his plane's ALR-69 Radar Warning Receiver: The Serbs had surface-to-air missiles, and they were pointed his way. As he began defensive maneuvers, the alarm sounded again. The enemy had fired.
Lucky for Meger, a pair of F-16 fighter jets armed with Raytheon-built HARM missiles engaged the missile site to keep the radar down. He and his wingman doubled back and led an offensive strike on the site.
That was back in 1999, but the planes Meger and his squadron mates were flying are still in the air today – even as advanced "fifth-generation" fighters like the F-35 take to the skies. To keep older aircraft apace with the newer generation, Raytheon is outfitting them with some of the same cutting-edge technology, all in the name of giving the U.S. and its allies the overwhelming advantage they call "air dominance."
“Every time that we go into battle, I want to win 100 to zero,” said Meger, a former fighter pilot and commander for the U.S. Air Force and now a business development manager at Raytheon. “I am not interested in a 51-to-49 game. And neither is this country.”
Fighter aircraft with Raytheon systems include the F-35, F-22 Raptor, F/A-18 Super Hornet, F-16 Fighting Falcon, EA-18G Growler, F-15 Strike Eagle, JAS-39 Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon.
"I can't think of a single Western-allied fighter that does not have some sort of Raytheon product on it," said Tom Copeman, vice president of business development for Raytheon's Air Warfare Systems. "Our products allow the United States Air Force and United States Navy, even in this anti-access world that we read about every day ... it gives them the upper hand on potential adversaries to achieve air dominance at the time and place of their choosing."
ADVANCEMENTS ALL AROUND
The F-35 is the world's most advanced fighter jet. And as Raytheon works to equip it with high-tech weapons, the company is integrating them on older fighters as well.
Those precision weapons include:
- The Small Diameter Bomb II, a winged weapon that glides more than 40 miles and can autonomously detect and classify moving targets in any weather conditions. Raytheon and the U.S. Air Force have completed rigorous wind-tunnel tests on SDB II, which is also slated for the F-15E, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and all variants of the F-35.
- Enhanced Paveway II, a precision munition that uses laser and GPS guidance to hit moving and fast targets. Aircraft that use Paveway include the F-16, F/A-18, F-15, Gripen and Typhoon.
- AIM-120D AMRAAM, the newest air-to-air weapon in the U.S. arsenal. The updated variant has increased range, GPS-aided navigation and a two-way data link.
- AIM-9X Sidewinder, the first short-range air-to-air missile to be used on the F-35. The U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and Raytheon successfully test-fired an AIM-9X Block I missile at an airborne target from the F-35A.
With newer weapons, older planes can "contribute in a more meaningful manner" to their missions, Copeman said.
"Their ability to be equally upgraded and modified to carry AIM-120Ds or AIM-9X Block IIs exponentially increases the amount of battlespace that they can effectively control because the weapons that they carry are so much superior than their predecessors," said Dan "Dagwood" Darnell, a former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot who now works at Raytheon.
The newer variants "are a quantum leap in technology over anything we had when I was flying," Darnell said.
New radar, new plane
It's not enough to give older planes the best and newest weapons. They also need radars – and that's another way Raytheon is bringing new life to U.S. and allied fourth-generation fighters.
The company has integrated its active electronically scanned array, or AESA, tactical radars onto the F/A-18, F-15 and F-16. Where older radars could look in only one place at a time, the newer radar can see in multiple directions at once.
“You legitimately have the capability to target multiple adversaries simultaneously that you never had in a mechanical-scan antenna,” said Neil “Stub” Kacena, a former fighter pilot who led development of AESAs when he was in the Air Force. Kacena now focuses on integrating products across Raytheon’s mission areas.
The U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 fleet is getting a boost in capability with the APG-79 AESA radar system. Dubbed the “sensor backbone” of the fleet, it gives pilots better awareness of their surroundings by steering the radar beam at nearly the speed of light.
While radars use energy to help pilots scan the battle space, radar warning receivers detect energy and use it to warn pilots of possible attacks. The ALR-69A Radar Warning Receiver, for example, is the world's first all-digital radar warning receiver. Raytheon is integrating it onto the F-16, and the C-130 Hercules transport plane, among other platforms.
Its earlier version is the reason Meger is still alive.
“My RWR saved my life,” Meger said. “This was back in 1999, and the software and processors have only gotten better — more capable, more accurate. It’s a huge capability that ensures the survivability of our aircrew.”
And that's the point, he said: to give U.S. and allied warfighters a decisive upper hand through advanced sensors, intelligence systems, networking and weapons.
"We are giving warfighters the tools they need to ensure that our sons and daughters, our national treasures, come home," Meger said. "That's what Raytheon does."