Northrop Grumman develops the AN/APG-81 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for the F-35 Lightning II. The radar will enable the pilot to effectively engage air and ground targets at long range, while providing situational awareness for enhanced survivability. The radar is designed to enable F-35 pilots to effectively engage air and ground targets at long range, while also providing outstanding situational awareness for enhanced survivability. In addition to providing the radar, Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems sector is providing the AN/AAS-37 electro-optical distributed aperture system for the F-35. The distributed aperture system will provide F-35 pilots with a unique protective sphere around the aircraft for missile warning, navigation support and night operations.
The AN/APG 81 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar was integrated at the origin of the program, profiting from U.S. technological dominance in this area and offering not only allweather target detection but also identification. Missile and laser warnings will also come as standard equipment on the aircraft.
AESA's solid-state technology and elimination of mechanical moving parts will enable the radar to far surpass current standards for systems reliability. The radar system also features a "replaceable assemblies" design for faster, easier repairs or upgrades to hardware and software modules. For these reasons, AESA life-cycle costs are expected to be significantly lower than those of MSAs. The active arrays on the F-35 should have almost twice the expected life of the airframe.
In June 2007 Northrop Grumman Corporation took delivery of the first two sets of receiver exciter modules for the F-35 Lightning II aircraft program. The common bus interface and slave synchronizer modules were produced by Terma A/S of Lystrup, Denmark, for the AN/APG-81 F-35 radar. They are the first increment of hardware to be delivered during the System Development and Demonstration phase of the program. Terma A/S delivered the radar system's core interface, analog IF receiver and drain power supply components later in 2007.
On January 23rd, 2009 Lockheed Martin completed the first F-35 Lightning II equipped with mission systems, a milestone that will lead to the first avionics testing on board an F-35 aircraft. The aircraft, called BF-4, will carry the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar and Integrated Communications, Navigation and Identification suite, and the BAE Systems Electronic Warfare system. The Block 0.5 mission systems software, which incorporates more than half of the combat-ready Block 3 software, will drive the system. BF-4 will be updated with additional equipment and software through Block 3, the last block in the System Development and Demonstration program.