Naval Air: Airborne Ray Guns For The Fleet

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July 6, 2006: The U.S. Navy has puts its first ray-gun equipped fighters into service. OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but does accurately describe the new APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar being installed in carrier based F-18Fs. AESA systems consist of thousands of tiny radars that can be independently aimed in different directions. This makes it possible, for a sufficiently powerful AESA radar, to focus enough energy to damage aircraft or missiles. The U.S. has already been doing this with the high-powered microwave (HPM) effects generated by similar AESA radars used in F14, F35 and F22 aircraft.

AESA type radars have been around a long time, popular mainly for their ability deal with lots of targets simultaneously. But AESA is also able to focus a concentrated beam of radio energy that could scramble electronic components of a distant target. Sort of like the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) put out by nuclear weapons. AESA has demonstrated that it can disable missiles and aircraft. Ballistic missiles are another story, as they are sturdier (to handle re-entry stress) and have fewer electronics to mess with.

In addition to AESA radars installed in newly built F-18s, over a hundred older F-18s will have the APG-79 radar installed. It will take about seven years to get some 400 AESA equipped F-18Fs into service. While the main reason for using AESA is to better track separate targets simultaneously, and with better accuracy, the navy, like the air force, is intent on improving and exploiting the ray-gun aspect of this radar as well.

 


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