The 480th Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base is the first active-duty USAF F-16 fighter squadron to receive AN/APG-83 SABR AESA radar system upgrades.
The 480th Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, is now the first active-duty US Air Force (USAF) F-16CM fighter squadron to bring their fleet of fighter jets into a new era of aerial dominance with the completion of its Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system upgrades.
“Providing this capability on an already time- and combat-proven aircraft adds another layer to U.S. Air Force capabilities in an ever-evolving electronic warfare environment,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr, to Tech. Sgt. Maeson L. Elleman, 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs, in the article 52nd FW first in AF to upgrade F-16s with AESA radar systems. “I know this upgrade will make us even more effective in our day-to-day combat operations, and I look forward to bringing the F-16 even further into the future of air superiority.”
This capability provides the fourth-generation multirole fighter jets a massive leap in combat capabilities, making pilots even more effective than ever before, while improving air defenses and overall aircraft survivability when faced with enemy forces.
“This is an upgrade to modernize the F-16, primarily with its sensors, starting with its radar,” said Lt. Col. Shaun Loomis, 480th Fighter Squadron commander. “The radar in and of itself is a game-changer. Going from a mechanically-scanned radar to AESA is night and day.”
Compared to its predecessor, AESA’s upgraded systems carry more transmitters, which allow for more-precise, longer-ranged and more jamming-resistant scanning of airspace.
The legacy radar systems have received numerous software updates and upgrades since they were first installed into the aircraft, but this project provides an entirely new set of hardware with a wide range of benefits over its predecessor.
Additionally, this project works to improve pilots’ visibility of the battlespace by laying the foundation for the aircraft targeting pod to stream high-definition video into the cockpit, an improvement from the smaller and lower-resolution monitors from before.
“The F-16 radar has been around since the late ‘80s, and while that radar has been getting updates every so often, there hasn’t been a specific hardware update in about 20 years,” Loomis said. “Actually swapping out and putting a whole new radar in there is revolutionary for the F-16. Along with that is modernizing our displays in the cockpit. It’s an improvement to the capability of the radar, but also an improvement to the interoperability with the pilot.”
Before Royal Air Force Lakenheath’s 495th Fighter Squadron’s Valkyries received their first F-35 Lightning IIs in December 2021, the 480th FS Warhawks were renowned as the only suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) squadron in US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa. In the SEAD role, these units provide airpower operations to NATO, US European Command and Africa Command and serve as a critical function of allied air superiority.
Adding AESA to the Warhawks’ arsenal further augments the Air Force’s and combatant commanders’ ability to respond to a wider range of threats in the region.
In the current environment, Loomis said the AESA system is vital to further decreasing limitations against not only enemy fighter aircraft, but also cruise missiles, further fortifying base defenses in the region.
The AN/APG-83 features all-weather, high-resolution synthetic aperture radar mapping to present the pilot with a large surface image for more precise target identification and strike compared to legacy systems. Its design incorporates proven hardware and advanced operating modes from Northrop Grumman’s fifth-generation F-35 and F-22 AESA radars. The high degree of commonality and shared manufacturing processes and infrastructure drives efficiencies and affordability improvements across all of Northrop Grumman’s AESA radar programs.
The AN/APG-83 AESA has become an official program of record for both the active and reserve US Air Force as well as the Guard after the service procured units in February 2020 for Air Combat Command and Air Force Reserve F-16 aircraft.
Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Maeson L. Elleman and Staff Sgt. Chanceler Nardone / U.S. Air Force