US could have new radars on its F-35s that other countries don't

The radar is likely to work only on Block 4 F-35s.
Ameya Paleja
F-35 jet nose on against the sky
F-35 jet

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The F-35 Lightning II stealth aircraft used by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps is set to get a new radar system called the AN/APG-85 as part of the planned upgrades, The War Zone reported. The upgrades could be completed before the end of this decade.

The AN/APG-85 radar was mentioned a few times last year and surprisingly remained under the radar for most of the year as it was dismissed as a typo. The radar nomenclature began doing rounds again last month when the U.S. Air Force mentioned it in its unfunded priority list (UPL) presentation.

One would expect an announcement like this to come from Lockheed Martin itself, but while the company has remained tight-lipped about it, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) told The War Zone that the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps were jointly "developing and integrating an advanced radar for the F-35 Lightning II, which is capable of defeating current and projected adversarial air and surface threats."

The radar on the F-35

The radar configuration on the F-35s is currently referred to as AN/APG-81 and is a solid-state active electronically scanned array (AESA). Produced by Northrop Grumman, the radar is the successor to the AN/APG-77 that we see on the F-22s and was contracted out over two decades ago in 2001.

The technology might seem dated, but according to Northrop Grumman's webpage is expected to be the standard fitment for the F-35s well into 2035. Since F-35s are also purchased by others such as the U.K., countries in Europe, and Southeast Asia, it is likely that the U.S. will move toward an advanced radar for its F-35s.

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Since technology has developed leaps and bounds over the years, The War Zone expects the new radar to be a Gallium Nitride (GaN) based system, which will not only increase the F-35's range and resolution but also support dynamic electronic warfare tactics.

Who will get the new radar?

Technological upgrades such as these will also need compatible infrastructure to be available inside the aircraft to be truly effective. One would assume that Lockheed Martin's $30 billion deal with the Department of Defense to deliver upgraded F-35s would pave the way for aircraft electronics to be ready for a new radar.

The F-35's core processor, memory, and panoramic cockpit display systems are expected to be revamped in this deal, which is referred to as Technology Refresh 3(TR-3). However, Lockheed Martin is expected to deliver aircraft from Lots 15 and 16 for this order initially, but it is only Lot 17, which will be equipped with Block 4 upgrades, and that is expected only near the end of the decade, The War Zone said in its report.

With the capabilities of the new radar undisclosed and advanced features of Block 4 upgrades still a fair distance away, the U.S. military is keeping its plans close to its chest. It might be a few years before we hear of the AN/APG-85 radar again.

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