Northrop Grumman has equipped 72 F-16 C/D Fighting Falcon fighters of the National Guard with the new AN / APG-83 SABR radar with an active phased array giving it a fifth-generation capability. It is assumed that the upgraded fighters can intercept cruise missiles.
This upgrade was the latest step in a program to replace the AN/APG-66 and AN/APG-68 pulse-Doppler radars in the F-16 with active phased array (APAR) radars.
In 2019, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and Northrop Grumman signed a contract to organize the production of new radars and their installation on F-16 fighters. As part of the new program, the U.S. Air Force should receive 372 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters with the APG-83 SABR installed. The contract was valued at just over $1 billion, and the re-equipment of the aircraft should be completed by 2027.
In addition to the new radar, the modernization of the F-16 fleet includes 13 modifications. The aircraft is equipped with the AGCAS Earth Collision Avoidance System, the ALR-69A Radar Exposure Signaling Device, and the Collins Aerospace ARC-210 Satellite Communications System. The U.S. Air Force believes that this will keep the F-16 relevant beyond 2025.
AN / APG-83 SABR AESA radar
Active phased array antenna equipped AN / APG-83 SABR AESA radar is derived from Northrop Grumman’s radars installed on the F-22 and F-35. APG-77 radar is installed on F-22, and the F-35 is equipped with APG-81 radar.
Integrating the APG-83 SABR into the F-16 does not require any major changes to the aircraft design. It is believed that AN / APG-83 allows the pilot to detect air targets at a distance of up to 370 kilometres.
In 2016, Northrop Grumman began flight testing of the APG-83 SABR airborne radar with an active phased array on the F-16V fighter. The company reported that it has already handed over 14 radars for testing and will deliver the first serial radar out of 144 ordered by a foreign client. Equipping F-16 fighters with AFAR radar will allow these fourth-generation combat aircraft to have the capabilities of fifth-generation fighters, said Mike Hinkey, vice president of the company. The first flight test of the radar was performed in 2008. The integration and testing were carried out along with the 416th U.S. Air Force Test Squadron, Edwards Air Force Base in California.
In 2017 the U.S. Department of Defense intended to conclude a contract with Northrop Grumman to install APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) radars on fighter jets. Initially, it was about 72 F-16 fighters of the U.S. National Guard, as well as the possible installation of new radars on a new modification of the F-16 Viper.
The previous APG-68 F-16 fire control radar could track no more than two objects at a time, and with the new radar, the pilot can “aim at more targets than he can hit.” The more processor power, data processing speed and radar operating modes, the more targets the aircraft can detect, and at greater distances than the old one. In addition, the APG-83 APAR radar is able to work effectively in “aggressive environments of electronic interference” and has a high resolution in the synthetic aperture mode, in which the clarity of the image plays a decisive role in identifying the target and the accuracy of its destruction.
Older radars also had “almost zero capabilities” against cruise missiles, which was “particularly alarming” given the proliferation of such missiles in recent years.
The AN/APG-83 radar in the SABR-GS version is being equipped on the upgraded Rockwell B-1B Lancer strategic bombers. In addition, the AN / APG-83 radar is part of the equipment complex of the F-16 Block 70 fighter being promoted for export.
The competitor of the Northrop Grumman AN / APG-83 SABR radar in the proposal to modernize the American F-16C / D fighters was the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) radar with APAR. But the manufacturer of the F-16, Lockheed Martin Corporation back in 2013, expressed its preference for the SABR radar for installation on the F-16 over the RACR radar. The RACR stations were originally planned to be installed on the upgraded KF-16C / D fighters of the South Korean Air Force, but in the end, after changing the upgrade contractor from BAE Systems to Lockheed Martin, they were replaced in the South Korean program by the SABR radar.
The F-16 is a fourth-generation multifunctional light fighter. It entered service with the U.S. Air Force in 1979 and is one of the most advanced combat planes to this day. According to the World Air Forces 2020 directory, the U.S. Air Force is armed with 790 fighters of this type.