Electronic Weapons: First Squadron of Sharp Eyed F-18s in Service

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July 31, 2007: The U.S. Navy recently put into service its first squadron of F-18Fs equipped with the AN/APG-79 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar. This replaces the AN/APG-73, that was originally installed on F-18E and F aircraft. The AN/APG-73 was just a bigger and better traditional radar. The big deal with the AN/APG-79 is not so much the radar itself, but the computers and software that support it. AESA radars consist of thousands of tiny radar transmitters that can be independently aimed in different directions. AESA type radars are popular mainly for their ability to deal with lots of targets simultaneously. AESA is also more reliable than the older, "mechanical" (the moving "radar dish) systems. AESA radars have been around since the 1970s, but what has really held them back has been sufficient computing power to handle all the additional information AESA systems gather. In the last few years, cheaper and more powerful computers have taken care of that problem, and new software gets the most out of whatever an AESA system can see. As with all radars, the information is not always black and white. Often there are uncertain bits of data bounced back. But a powerful enough computer, and the right software, can make the most sense out of such fragmentary information. Thus the AN/APG-79 provides a more precise picture of what is out there, and can even scan the ocean for ships and small boats. Costing nearly three million dollars each, the navy plans to buy over 400 AN/APG-79 systems over the next three years.

 


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