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New radar system bolsters F-15 fleet

Version 2 of the Active Electronic Scanned Array System, or v2 AESA, one of the most advanced radar systems in the world is displayed. Courtesy photo from Boeing

Version 2 of the Active Electronic Scanned Array System, or v2 AESA, one of the most advanced radar systems in the world is displayed. Courtesy photo from Boeing

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Kadena recently received six F-15C Eagle aircraft upgraded with one of the most advanced radar systems in the world--version 2 of the Active Electronic Scanned Array System, or v2 AESA. 

More upgraded aircraft will arrive here by the end of the fiscal year as part of a program called "Golden Fleet." 

Under this program 178 F-15's will receive a wide variety of upgrades over the next 10 years, which will allow the jet to stay up-to-date. The v2 AESA radar system was part of this program. 

"This is the most capable radar in a fighter aircraft in the world," said Tim Flohrschutz, Boeing's AESA Aircraft Kadena Site Manager. The system is as advanced as that of the Air Force's newest fighter--the F-22 Raptor. 

The v2 AESA is all-electronic based with no moving parts on the radar system itself, allowing everything to be electronically steered. The system allows the F-15 to engage targets better and with greater reliability. 

Not every airframe in the Air Force received the new system. It was specifically designed for the F-15 fleet. 

"Congress funded systems and that's all there will ever be in the inventory for the Air Force," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Romero, 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics specialist. "We will receive all of the [v2 AESA-equipped] jets. The remaining aircraft are currently assigned to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. As Alaska receives the F-22's to replace the F-15C's Kadena will get the remaining [aircraft]."
As the remaining aircraft make their way to Kadena, the older jets from here will be transitioned to the Air National Guard. 

Sergeant Romero said the new radar system is similar to the older one with the exception of the antenna. The current radar systems use hydraulic parts.
"Overall it's a better made system," he said. 

Not only is the new system strategic in value but it also cuts down on maintenance. The older radar system required maintenance approximately every 70 to 80 hours, said Sergeant Romero. The average maintenance intervals with the v2 AESA is about every 900 to 1,000 hours. 

"The regular maintenance that goes into the old system is almost non-existent with the new," he said. 

The new radar eliminated the need for a hydraulically steered antenna. Its components are also designed to extend its lifespan, Sergeant Romero added. 

"With the old system we had to wait for the antenna to move to send and receive signals," said Capt. Jason Roth, 44th Fighter Squadron pilot. "The new system allows us to do our job better by transmitting signals faster with no moving parts." 

The captain said the lack of moving parts provides "less wear and tear" to the new radar system. 

For the most part, transitioning from the old to the new radar system is seamless for the pilot, said Mr. Flohrschutz. 

The display chassis of the new system was specifically designed to look just like the legacy systems so pilots could step into a familiar cockpit. Pilots are initially certified through a basic academics class for the v2 AESA which includes simulator training. After just a few hours they're ready to fly. 

Maintaining the new radar system takes more than just career field knowledge, it takes specialists to maintain, repair and troubleshoot problems as they arise. 

"The v2 was specifically designed to be contractor-supported for the life of the system," said Mr. Flohrschutz. "The Air Force didn't procure regular tech orders and data so everything we use is contractor engineered." 

Twelve Boeing employees are stationed here to support both operations and maintenance of the new radar, plus other unique aircraft systems. The employees can also provide off-station support. 

"If these aircraft deploy, no matter where they go, we go along to give the 18th Wing the support they need to do their job," said Mr. Flohrschutz. 

The military and civilian technicians work hand-in-hand to keep the aircraft flying.
"To have open channels of communication with the civilian team is essential and we enjoy working together to have these jets stay in the air," said Sergeant Romero. "We're quite pleased that these aircraft are here and to have these capabilities in the Pacific."