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  • New Saudi F-15S Could Be An Impressively Advanced Strike Fighter
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 2:43 PM on Aug 12, 2010

    Saudi Arabia wants 84 new F-15S strike-fighters to replace some of its oldest F-15s, but they also want an advanced radar that will be similar to the radar on the F-35 that the Israelis plan to buy.

    New digital radars with active electronically scanned array (AESA) antennas can increase surveillance and targeting ranges by three times. They can create maps with enough resolution to find small, moving targets. With the right software they can become sophisticated electronic warfare devices. And the newest twist is that with the next generation of air-to-air missiles, they can defend against short-range and some medium-range ballistic missiles.

    The original request from Saudi Arabia was for the F-15S with a Raytheon-made, AESA radar that could increase the sensor’s range for detecting small targets to about 150 mi. depending on the radar cross section of the target -- and almost eliminates maintenance costs. The current radar in both the F-15S and Israel’s F-15I is the manually scanned APG-70 which is no longer in production. Israeli pilots say they can see large airliner sized targets at 150 naut. mi., but tactical fighter size targets only register at about 56 naut. mi.

    The F-15Ss are part of a proposed $30 billion arms package that is being promoted by the Obama Administration.

    The new AESA radar designs – such as the APG-63(v)3 on upgraded USAF F-15Cs and Singapore’s new F-15SGs – can detect very small targets. The U.S. variant can target stealthy cruise missiles at ranges great enough to attack and destroy them. More importantly, AESA radars the size of those in F-15s can find and target small moving ground targets at long range so that they can be struck with standoff weapons beyond the range of anti-aircraft weapons.

    While Israel and Saudi Arabia carry the same radars in their F-15s, the Israeli Air Force has fielded long-range unmanned aircraft with precision targeting capabilities that make up for a lack of long-range radar on the manned aircraft. This gives Israel a qualitative advantage for the time being.

    South Korea has the APG-63(v)1 (without an AESA antenna but with a digital processing back end) on its new F-15Ks. That means that the Koreans can upgrade the fighter’s capabilities when they can afford the advanced antenna arrays. Meanwhile they get the advantages of low maintenance.

    The negotiations and manufacturing capabilities still in place at Raytheon indicate the candidate radar for Saudi Arabia would be the APG-63(v)1 or 3. Since the Israeli Air Force is planning to buy about 22 AESA-radar equipped F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the purchase of an advanced radar by the Saudis may become a moot issue. It could also soften any onus associated with introducing a stealth fighter to the Middle East.

    Saudi Arabia’s fighting on the borders with Yemen insurgents reportedly has produced significant casualties within the Saudi forces. Air raids conducted with Saudi Tornados and F-15S aircraft began late last year against Houthis rebels in northern Yemen’s Sa’dah region.

    It is the first military action for the Royal Saudi Air Force since 1991. Results have apparently attached some urgency to plans for upgrading the air and ground forces. The process started after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But some of the force is aging and needs replacement.

    High on that list are 82 F-15C/Ds. The Saudis’ best strike aircraft currently are 71 S-models with the Raytheon APG-70 radar with a detuned Doppler beam-sharpening capability. The Israelis have much the same radar (the APG-70I) with a similar reduction in capability. The USAF radars have about 3 times better resolution than those on the I and the S models.  With the APG-70 radar line now closed, the question becomes what radar will the new F-15S aircraft carry.

    Tags: ar99, SaudiArabia, F-15S

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