NORTHCOM Seeks Urgent F-16 AESAs

The Air Force is two months from deciding how to meet an urgent US Northern Command request for F-16s fitted with active electronically scanned array radars, USAF leaders told Congress March 26. AESA radars are needed to track “small cross-section threats,” such as cruise missiles, but would need improved command and control, surveillance, and “kill chain” tools as well, USAF strategic plans and programs chief Lt. Gen. James Holmes told the tactical air and land forces panel of the House Armed Services Committee. AESAs were part of the scrapped F-16 CAPES upgrade, which fell out of the Fiscal 2015 budget. Maj. Gen. Timothy Ray, director of USAF global power programs, added the service is “looking very closely at the capabilities that would be required.” Swapping the existing radar for an optimized AESA for the new mission might cause USAF to “lose some capabilities,” Ray said, which he did not elaborate on but likely related to the air-to-ground mode. NORTHCOM wants the radars in place within 18 months. A decision is expected “in the next month or two, of exactly how we’ll do that,” Ray said. The pair said F-16s assigned to defend the National Capital Region would get the system first, but “we remain concerned about coverage for the rest of the country and the rest of the F-16 fleet,” Ray noted. Holmes said after getting AESAs for NCR coverage, “we’ll … then see how we would expand it across the country.”