February 18, 2008:
The AN/APG-77 radar
on the F-22 has been tweaked so that it can produce photo-realistic images of
what's on the ground. The AN/APG-77 is an AESA type radar, which consist of
thousands of tiny radars that can be independently aimed in different directions. With sufficiently powerful computers on
board, the AESA radar signals bounced back to the transmitter can be
reassembled to provide a very realistic looking picture of what's out there.
AESA type radars have been around a
long time, popular mainly for their ability deal with lots of targets
simultaneously. But AESA is also able to focus a concentrated beam of radio
energy that could scramble electronic components of a distant target. Sort of
like the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) put out by nuclear weapons. AESA has
demonstrated that it can disable missiles and aircraft. Ballistic missiles are
another story, as they are sturdier (to handle re-entry stress) and have fewer
electronics to mess with.
Most U.S. warplanes are being equipped,
or re-equipped with AESA radars. The U.S. Air Force is also publicizing any
F-22 advantages it can find, in order to procure money to produce more of these
fighters (at a cost of about $150 million each). At the moment, Congress is
only allowing 183 F-22s to be built, but air force generals have openly vowed
to scrounge up the cash to build twice as many.
An F-22 with the ability to use its
radar to identify vehicles on the ground is not a real big deal. That's because
many less expensive aircraft can do the same thing. Targeting pods are used for
this all the time, although the AESA radar approach cuts through clouds, fog
and sand storms. But if this approach were important enough, an AESA radar and
computers could be mounted in, say, a B-52, that could then drop missiles or
smart bombs on targets it found.