More than 70 F-16 Fighting Falcons across 12 Air National Guard units are now flying with the new active electronically scanned array, (AESA) radar that will allow pilots to detect, target, identify, and engage across a spectrum of threats at longer ranges and react with greater precision. The AESA reinforces the viability of the F-16 to execute its homeland defense mission while remaining ahead of near-peer threats. Air National Guard and defense industry leaders and distinguished visitors commemorated this addition to the F-16’s arsenal of equipment recently in a ceremony held on Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The group gathered in front of an AESA-equipped F-16 assigned to the DCANG’s 113th Wing, the first unit in the Air Force to receive this upgraded capability.
“[With the F-16’s previous APG-68 fire control radar], I had the ability to target up to two tracks, that’s it,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Trujillo, commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard’s 113th Aerospace Control Alert Detachment, the unit responsible for the air defense of the national capital region.
“This has not been without a lot of labor, without a lot of advocacy, and without a lot of people saying ‘I don’t have another dollar to spend on an old F-16,’” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, Air National Guard director, who served as an F-16 pilot in both the regular Air Force and ANG.
The provisioning of the AESA radar in the F-16 legacy fleet was a result of the combined effort of the defense industry, Congress, the U.S. Air Force, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The implementation of this radar technology, which complements the capabilities of 5th generation fighters like the F-35 and F-22, revitalizes legacy aircraft and cost-effectively integrates them into the current generation of assets. Since the first F-16 upgrade with the AESA radar in January 2020, the 113th Wing has leveraged its effectiveness for its missions, including the defense of the NCR. Responding to more than 7,000 events since 9/11, the 113th ACA is the most active alert fighter air defense unit in the Department of Defense.
Emerging threats are among the biggest reasons for provisioning the AESA radar. The F-16’s previous APG-68 fire control radar had near-zero capability against cruise missiles, which means the AESA radar provides new capabilities for the legacy aircraft. These capabilities allow the ANG to face near-peer adversaries in today’s contested battlespace as current and future threats race to dominate the air domain. The acquisition of the AESA radar stands as a testament to the combined effort to assure the national security needs of the United States. The AESA radar’s up-to-date set of capabilities modernizes and recapitalizes the ANG’s legacy fleet of F-16s, marking its arrival into the next generation of combat and air power.