F-35A JSF jet

Northrop Grumman has completed demonstration of the ballistic missile detection, tracking and targeting capabilities of its AN/AAQ-37 distributed aperture system (DAS) and AN/APG-81 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Both feature on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft.

Operating from the company’s BAC1-11 testbed aircraft, both systems autonomously detected, tracked and targeted multiple, simultaneous ballistic rockets during the demonstration.

The DAS system detected and tracked all the five rockets, which were launched in quick succession, even after the second stage burnout, while the radar displayed its ability to independently provide acquisition and weapons quality tracks.

The AESA radar’s capabilities were further proven through pointing cues from DAS for expedited and extended range target acquisition while maintaining each track of the rocket from initial acquisition to exit from its field of view.

Northrop Grumman combat avionic systems business unit vice president, Jeff Leavitt, explained that the ballistic missile tracking modes of the two systems were demonstrated with only minor modifications to the baseline F-35 JSF radar and DAS software.

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He said: "Since DAS is always staring simultaneously in every direction, an operator does not have to point the sensor in the direction of a target to gain a track. The F-35 pilot could continue the primary mission while the sensors automatically observe ballistic missile threats."

The testing was conducted in collaboration with Nasa and the US Air Force to ensure zero impact on Nasa’s primary science mission goals.

The AN/APG-81 AESA multifunction radar is designed to support a full range of air-to-air and air-to-surface missions, apart from electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions.

The AN/AAQ-37 DAS provides the F-35 with visual imagery for both day/night navigation and targeting purposes, in addition to simultaneously detecting and tracking aircraft and missiles in all directions.

Image: An F-35A JSF aircraft during the inauguration ceremony in July 2006. Photo: courtesy of X360.