Modern Fighter Aircraft Radars


AN/APG-80 (AESA) radar used on F-16 Block 60
AN/APG-80 (AESA) radar used on F-16 Block 60

  1. Introduction


A summary of radars that equip the world's top-of-the-line fighter aircraft listing  critical performance parameters such as type, aperture, range and LPI.

The effectiveness of a modern fighter radar is determined by a combination of its radiating power and Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) features that prevent the radar from tripping off alarm systems in a target. These typically include using a narrow beam that is hard to spot from off its boresight; only transmitting radar pulses when necessary; spreading the radar pulses over a wide band so there will only be a very small signal on any one band (Frequency Hopping); or varying transmission parameters such as pulse form, frequency, or PRF, jumping around in an unpredictable fashion, not staying in one place long enough to register. 

The radiated power is largely dependent on the antenna aperture.

Increasing the radiated power will increase the range of the radar but unless it is accompanied by LPI it will also announce the presence of the radiating aircraft to sensors on an enemy fighter that still does not have you in its radar range.

In an AESA radar individual TR modules can be assigned the role of Radar Warning Receivers allowing a radiating aircraft to be picked up the target aircraft, instead of the other way around!

For example, the AN/APG-77 fitted on the F-22 Raptor has 2,000 TR modules. Operating purely as an RWR it can pick up enemy aircraft's radar from distances of up to 460 kilometers (250 nautical miles). The higher the energy radiated by the enemy aircraft radar, greater the APG-77's detection range. With all modules operating as radars, the APG-77 can acquire pick enemy targets up to 220 kilometers (125 nautical miles). Its use of LPI does not alert the enemy aircraft to its own presence.

Broadly speaking Russian radars tend to rely on radiated power for their effectiveness, leveraging the higher apertures of their radars facilitated by larger aircraft size and nose cross sectional area. American AESA radars blend radiating powere with LPI. Their higher software maturity levels facilitate use of the AESA for communication, gathering information electronic intelligence, locating electronic systems, classifying them, and warning the pilot of possible threats or high-priority targets. 

Phazotron Zhuk AE
Zhuk-AE can detect aerial targets at ranges up to 148 km (head on) in both look-up or look down modes. Look-up tail-on detection range is 50km (40km look down). The radar can track 30 aerial targets in the track-while-scan mode, and engage six targets simultaneously in the attack mode.
Phazotron officials claim that they will be able to increase the head on detection range of the radar to 200 km. 
Phazotron Zhuk ME
PESA, 0.7 metre aperture,
Capable of detecting fighter-type targets at a 120 km range, acquiring and tracking up to 10 air targets with a simultaneous engagement of 4 of them.
Phazotron Zhuk MSF/MSFE
0.98 meter diameter aperture with 1662 radiating elements
Developed for PLA-AF Su-30MK3
Tikhomirov NIIP Irbis E
20 kW hybrid ESA
Largest antenna in any agile fighter.
Peak power and range performance claimed to be competitive against the publicly disclosed figures of F-22A's APG-77. NIIP claim a detection range for a closing 3 square meter co-altitude target of 190 - 215 NMI (350-400 km), and the ability to detect a closing 0.01 square metre target at ~50 NMI (90 km). In Track While Scan (TWS) mode the radar can handle 30 targets simultaneously, and provide guidance for two simultaneous shots using a semi-active missile like the R-27 series, or eight simultaneous shots using an active missile like the RVV-AE/R-77 or ramjet RVV-AE-PD/R-77M. The Irbis-E was clearly designed to support the ramjet RVV-AE-PD/R-77M missile in BVR combat against reduced signature Western fighters like the Block II Super Hornet or Eurofighter Typhoon. Curiously, NIIP do not claim superiority over the F-22A's APG-77 AESA, yet their cited performance figures exceed the public (and no doubt heavily sanitized) range figures for the APG-77.
Tikhomirov NIIP N011M Bars
Hybrid ESA
The Bars radar fitted on the Su-30MKI is a hybrid radar that fits between a PESA and contemporary AESA radar. It features a detection range of 76 nm (50 nm form the rear hemisphere). It has 0.9m diameter antenna The phased array can electronically steer the mainlobe through +/-70 degrees in azimuth and +/-40 degrees in elevation. The whole array can be further steered mechanically. Polarisation can be switched by 90 degrees for surface search modes.

The radar can simultaneously track both air and ground targets and engage 4 to 8 targets.

The radar can transmit targeting information to 4 other aircraft operating their radars in the passive mode.
 Tikhomirov NIIP AESA AESA
Slight ellipse shape matching PAF-FA cross section.
1,500 elements, Fixed antenna. Will use an addtional conformal array to increase angular coverage.
APG 77
It is believed to have a detection range of 110-115 mile and can detect aircraft with a cross section as small as a steel marble, though probably not at its max range.
F-22 Raptor
AESA, Estimated range 125 mile
 APG-82(V)1 AESA
Replaces the APG-70 radar fitted on the F-15 earlier.
The radar operates as air-to-air and air-to-ground radar.
"One AESA-equipped F-15E can detect and track multiple targets simultaneously and gain the same battle picture and prosecute the same number of attacks that currently require several mechanically scanned radar assets," said Brad Jones, the Boeing director for U.S. Air Force development programs. "Adding AESA multiplies the effectiveness of the F-15E."
Estimated range 100 mile
F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet
 APG-80 AESA F-16 Block 60, IN
Estimated range 100 mile
Has over 1,000 TR modules. Its advanced receiver and exciter are capable of extreme wave form agility.
Northrop Grumman marketing video for the APG-81
F-35 Lightning II
Eurofighter CAESAR replacement
ELTA EL/M-2052
F-16, LCA
Thales RBE2
Final validation of software functions is expected to end in the first quarter of 2010 with the delivery of AESA radars to Dassault Aviation.
The radar uses 1,000 gallium/arsenide T/R modules and offers a 50% increase in detection range over Rafale's current radar.
The Scaleable Agile Beam Radar is designed to retrofit into all F-16 without any structural, power or cooling modifications, and the same F-16 mounting points are used for SABR installation. SABR retrofits are expected to take less than a day. 
VIXEN 1000E      AESA
The Vixen 1000ES, a collaborative programme with SELEX Galileo, SAAB Microwave and SAAB Aerosystems, is based on the Vixen 500E.

The VIXEN 500E is being developed for use on small lightweight fighter aircraft. It has a range 35 nautical miles (65 km). The radar currently does not have any customers. It has approximately 500 T/R modules. There is also a variant with 750 T/R modules under development.

Saab has tied up with SELEX Galileo to co-develop an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar for the Gripen Next Generation (NG) based on the Vixen 500E.

The Vixen 1000E uses a swashplate mounting, which enables the active array to be rotated by +/-100°. This beats a fixed AESA that is limited to 60-70° during beyond visual-range and off-boresight missile firings, and while acquiring synthetic aperture radar imagery.

The higher scan volume of the Selex radar allows the attacking aircraft to perform a large turn away from the target after launching a missile while maintaining missile support.

A prototype will be delivered to SAAB by the end of 2009, and then Selex will will upgrade it over the next 18 months."
British Typhoon
JAS 39 Gripen NG
 Raytheon RACRAESA
Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR), is a stripped down version of the APG-79 that shares about 90% of its components with the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet's current sensor.

The radar has been developed for use on Lockheed Martin F-16s and Boeing F/A-18s.
Though Raytheon has refused to identify its potential clients, it offered a AESA to South Korea for its KF-16 during October's Seoul air show. Greece is likely to be another potential client, having ordered 170 F-16s.

Raytheon plans to install a production version of the radar on a F-16 for flight tests during the first half of 2010.
Phazotron Zhuk-AE Multi-function AESA at Aero India 2011
Phazotron Zhuk-AE Multi-function AESA at Aero India 2011. Photo Copyright © Vijainder K Thakur
Phazotron displayed an improved version of the Zhuk-AE Multifunction AESA radar with a 688 mm antenna diameter.

At Aero India 2009, Phazotron had displayed a version of the radar with a 600 mm diameter antenna.

The larger antenna has improved detection range (See above for detection ranges of earlier version.)

In the look up mode, the radar can now detect a 3 sq m target at 160 km head on and 80 km tail on. In the look-down mode detection range drops by 10 km in both cases.

As earlier, the radar can track 30 and engage 6 targets simultaneously.

Zhuk-AE Summary


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