Pop Out, Drop In, Fire Up: The Art of the Upgrade Comes to Seoul

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A technician installs circuit modules for an active electronically scanned array radar

On a sun-splashed airfield, a yellow crane carrying a gleaming new radar rolled up to an F/A-18C fighter jet parked on the tarmac. Two mechanics in helmets popped open the fighter's nose. And in less than 60 minutes they had bolted in the new Raytheon active electronically scanned array radar and transformed the Hornet into a cutting-edge fighter, ready for combat again.

"It takes less than an hour. And to do so with a simple, non-disruptive retrofit in the field is unprecedented," said Michael Garcia, a business development manager at Raytheon who helped organize the demonstration at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. "This is a real option for legacy fleets worldwide."

The radar upgrade is part of a flurry of new products that Raytheon is highlighting at the Seoul Air Show from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3. These upgrades are designed to help countries extend the lives of their existing combat equipment in a time of tighter budgets. They include:

  • New active electronically scanned array radars, among them the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar recently selected by South Korea for its F-16s.
  • Upgrades to the Patriot air and missile defense system, including new control stations and radar digital processors.

The company will also be showing new innovations, including the

  • The Miniature Air Launched Decoy, a tiny, programmable, jet-powered decoy that confuses enemy defenses by mimicking the radar signatures of other aircraft.
  • The Joint Standoff Weapon, a gliding weapon that uses integrated satellite and inertial guidance.
  • The High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile, used to suppress or destroy surface-to-air missile radars, early warning radars and radar-directed air defense artillery systems.

The products show Raytheon's unique design philosophy, which looks several generations ahead. The company's AESA radars, for example, were built to be scalable, easily expanding or shrinking the size of its array to fit inside the noses of different aircraft.

"When we talk to our customers, we want to understand what they are faced with today and what they hope to achieve tomorrow," said Jim Hvizd, vice president of international strategy and business development for Raytheon's Space and Airborne Systems.

The Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar boasts a modular design that allows for easy upgrades to its capability. Technicians can perform maintenance on the flight line with little equipment or manpower.

"It's as simple as pulling out a card," said Eric Ditmars, Raytheon's senior director of F/A-18 Radar Programs. "It really doesn't get any easier than that."

The plug-and-play design also extends to the F-16 center display unit. The "glass cockpit" insert helps pilots quickly review multiple sensor images, and its open architecture guarantees that it will work with new electronic systems.

"This new glass cockpit meets the warfighter's needs without affecting those pieces of the aircraft that are still working well and relevant," said Todd Lovell, a chief engineer at Raytheon's Intelligence, Information and Services business.

Raytheon has been rolling out new helicopter upgrades, too. In April an upgraded OH-58F Kiowa made its ceremonial first flight at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., showcasing the first major renovation of this aircraft type in 20 years.

Military officials needed the Kiowa, a Vietnam-era design, to be more agile so it could handle the intense demands of theaters like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are really doing a lot more maneuvering flight, both in urban and non-urban environments," Army Col. John Lynch, Training and Doctrine Command capability manager for the Kiowa Warrior, said during the demonstration.

As part of this upgrade, Raytheon won a contract to install a new nose-mounted AAS-53 electro-optical/infrared camera on the Kiowas, greatly improving their surveillance capability.

Throughout the defense industry, figuring out how to incorporate new technology into older equipment will become increasingly important, said David Berteau, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The focus is, "How do you extend and expand the capability that you offer customers?" Berteau said. "The opportunity is going to be in integration and modernization of platforms that are already out there."

At Raytheon, engineers are already working with customers on ways to squeeze even more life out of their equipment.

"It's about honing in on what's important: the technology, the relevancy of the platform and its ability to do the mission," Hvizd said.

Published On: 10/24/2013
Last Updated: 12/06/2017