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USAF Orders 105 AN/APG-83 SABR AESA Radars for its F-16s

Issue 98

On February 28, 2020 the U.S. Air Force (USAF) granted Northrop Grumman a US$262.28 Million contract for 15 examples of the SABR, which includes Engineering, Manufacturing and Development (EMD) and the production of 90 AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radars (SABR). The USAF announced on June 17, 2017, that it had selected the AN/APG-83 SABR to upgrade 72 F-16s to meet a Joint Emergent Operational Need raised by U.S. Northern Command for homeland defense.

The USAF plans to keep 350 of its F-16 Block 40/42/50/52 aircraft through at least 2048 and is putting them through a service-life extension program (SLEP). As part of the SLEP the aircraft will undergo extensive structural work—including re-winging in some cases—to extend their service lives by 4,000 hours to 12,000. New avionics, and a new AESA radar in particular, is a key element of the SLEP. The new avionics and new APG-83 SABR AESA radar integrated on the aircraft under the SLEP upgrade extends the operational viability and reliability of the F-16 and provides pilots with 5th generation fighter radar capabilities to counter and defeat increasingly sophisticated threats.

Drawing on experience with the F-22’s AN/APG-77 and F-35’s AN/APG-81, Northrop Grumman developed the AN/APG-83 SABR as an active electronically-scanned array (AESA) fire control radar that can be scaled and tailored to meet a number of applications including the replacement of the mechanically-scanned APG-66/68 radars fitted in the F-16s.

In its F-16 configuration, the APG-83 SABR is designed to be of similar form-fit to the original sensor, with similar power/cooling requirements and connections in order to keep necessary modifications to a minimum. A trial unit was test-flown in an F-16 at Edwards AFB, California, in November 2009. 

The greater bandwidth, speed, and agility of Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-83 SABR enables the F-16 to detect, track and identify greater numbers of targets faster and at longer ranges. In addition, the radar can operate in hostile electronic environments and features all-weather, high-resolution synthetic aperture radar mapping, which presents the pilot with a large surface image enabling precision target identification and strike.

The launch customer for AN/APG-83 was Taiwan, for its F-16V upgrade program. The AN/APG-83 SABR has also been selected by a growing number of international customers and is the base radar for Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70/72. Production of export AN/APG-83 SABR radars started in 2016 and Northrop Grumman began delivering production AN/APG-83 radars for its first international customer on schedule at the end of 2016.

As of January 2020, more than 200 AN/APG-83 SABR systems have been built at Northrop Grumman’s radar assembly facility in Baltimore, for U.S. and international customers.