Home Air US F-16s put new AESA radars to the test in four-ship formation

US F-16s put new AESA radars to the test in four-ship formation

This mission tested the new APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar before fielding this capability to the Air Force’s F-16 fleet.
Photo: US Air Force

A combined developmental and operational test team tested a new F-16 radar capability during a four-ship formation of F-16s at Eglin air force base early July, the US Air Force has revealed.

The mission was the first of its kind to test the APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar on four fighter aircraft at the same time. The Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force, 40th Flight Test Squadron and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron were responsible for fielding the radar for the Air Force’s F-16 fleet.

The new radar equips F-16s with 5th generation radar capabilities similar to F-22s and F-35s. The system is used in the suppression or destruction of enemy air defenses, to include targeting radars and surface-air-missiles. It also improves existing air-to-air capabilities and enhances air-to-ground mapping.

“This capability allows us to target the northwest corner of a small building or the cockpit of an aircraft from several miles away, beyond line-of-sight,” said Jack Harman, 40th FLTS F-16 fighter test pilot. “[The radar] improves our ability to identify the threat prior to us being targeted – we no longer have to be inside a threat envelope in order to detect it.”

By testing four AESA radars at the same time, the team assessed whether the aircraft experience interference and evaluated if the signal improved or degraded while operating together. The four-ship is the basic fighting formation of fighter aircraft, allowing testers to see how the radar responds in a combat scenario.

Photo: US Air Force

“From an F-16 standpoint, we haven’t received significant hardware in years,” said Harman. “We’re undergoing at least 13 new programs for the aircraft and it’s happening almost simultaneously.”

The OFP CTF specializes in managing the integration of developmental and operational tests allowing for combined test teams to fully field requirements under one commander.

“Not only do we go out and fly the hardware and test it – we’re responsible for making sure it’s suitable and meets the needs and requirements of operators,” said Lt. Col. Ben Wysack, F-16 Test division director. “We’re always updating the software, making it better, fixing bugs and adding new capabilities.”

As the lead subject matter expert for the F-16 AESA radar, Wysack teaches other pilots across the Air Force how to use the radar and works on the curriculum for the next software version.

This radar test included F-16 and F-15 personnel representing civilian, contractor, Reserve, National Guard and active duty components. Additionally, the 309th Software Maintenance Wing out of Hill AFB, Utah, produced the code for the test software.

“From a program manager’s perspective, this has been a rewarding journey – from managing the program at Wright-Patterson to test and fielding here at Eglin,” said Lt. Col. Alec Spencer, 40th FLTS director of operations.”

While the radar will continue to be tested here for the foreseeable future, the system is expected to be operational across the F-16 fleet later this year.

“Accomplishing this, especially under COVID-19 conditions, was a herculean effort. We’re seeing flexibility from different organizations in order to make it happen,” said Harman. “This test alone is a huge win for the F-16 community.”