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Seymour Johnson's Strike Eagles undergo radar upgrade

An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 336th Fighter Squadron sits in a hanger while members of the Radar Modernization Program Eagle modernization program team begin removing panels, Oct. 3, 2016, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. More than 90 jets at Seymour Johnson AFB will receive the radar modifications, projected to be completed in seven to nine years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle from the 336th Fighter Squadron sits in a hanger while members of the Radar Modernization Program Eagle modernization program team begin removing panels, Oct. 3, 2016, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. More than 90 jets at Seymour Johnson AFB will receive the radar modifications, projected to be completed in seven to nine years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

Kevin Kelly (right), Boeing Co. Radar Modernization Program integrator, shows the group a liquid cooling pump from the F-15E Strike Eagle, Oct. 3, 2016, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Boeing Co. is contracted to install the upgrade of a new radar system from the old legacy APG-70 mechanically-scanned radar to an active electronically-scanned radar system APG-82. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

Kevin Kelly (right), Boeing Co. Radar Modernization Program integrator, shows the group a liquid cooling pump from the F-15E Strike Eagle, Oct. 3, 2016, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Boeing Co. is contracted to install the upgrade of a new radar system from the old legacy APG-70 mechanically-scanned radar to an active electronically-scanned radar system APG-82. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

Charles Loy (right), Boeing Co. aircraft mechanic, begins to remove a panel off an F-15E Strike Eagle, Nov. 1, 2016, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. The F-15E is receiving a Radar Modernization program; it’s first major upgrade of its radar system in more than 20 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

Charles Loy (right), Boeing Co. aircraft mechanic, begins to remove a panel off an F-15E Strike Eagle, Nov. 1, 2016, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. The F-15E is receiving a Radar Modernization program; it’s first major upgrade of its radar system in more than 20 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

Brian Petticoffer, Boeing Co. aircraft mechanic and member of the Radar Modernization Program Eagle modernization program team, closes a supply cage, Nov. 1, 2016, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. The RMP team at Seymour Johnson AFB is comprised of avionic technicians, E&E, and general mechanics that are a part of installing the upgraded radar system, APG-82, into the aircrafts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

Brian Petticoffer, Boeing Co. aircraft mechanic and member of the Radar Modernization Program Eagle modernization program team, closes a supply cage, Nov. 1, 2016, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. The RMP team at Seymour Johnson AFB is comprised of avionic technicians, E&E, and general mechanics that are a part of installing the upgraded radar system, APG-82, into the aircrafts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- With 30 years under its belt, the F-15E is receiving a Radar Modernization Program -- its first major upgrade of its radar system in more than 20 years.

Boeing Co. is contracted to install the upgrade of a new radar system, which began at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, in June 2016. 

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is the second F-15E base to secure a contract with Boeing Co. to receive the upgrades, which began in September 2016. More than 90 jets at Seymour Johnson AFB will receive the modifications, projected to be completed in seven to nine years.

“What we’re doing is called the RMP Eagle modernization program,” said Jonathan Pierce, Boeing Co. F-15E site lead. “We’re doing [the upgrade] on all of the F-15E models This radar update is going to drastically improve the aircraft’s air-to-air and air-to-ground radar making it significantly more capable.”

The old legacy APG-70 mechanically-scanned radar is being replaced with a new active electronically-scanned radar system, APG-82. It’s designed to retain functionality of the old legacy radar system while providing expanded mission employment capabilities, to include:

  • Near simultaneous interleaving of selected air-to-air and air-to-ground functions
  • Enhanced air-to-air and air-to-ground combat identification capabilities
  • Longer range air-to-air target detection and enhanced track capabilities
  • Longer range and higher resolution air-to-ground radar mapping
  • Improved ground moving target track capability

From start to finish, the process takes 70 to 75 work days per aircraft. Each aircraft comes in, and a Boeing Co. team begins removing all the panels needed to get to the old radar system.

“Once we get the aircraft up on jacks, we get the nose landing gear removed; [my team] starts removing those components and making room for the fabric guys and gals to come in and begin modification by cutting holes, installing or removing brackets, and setting up lines for re-install,” Pierce said. “At the same time, our avionics, electric and environmental folks are running all kinds of wiring and pulling out a lot of the old parts that will get replaced. When that’s all done, we put it all back together and do our follow-on [operations] checks.”

The RMP Eagle modernization program team at Seymour Johnson AFB is comprised of avionic technicians, E&E, and general mechanics.

While the Boeing Co. team conducts the radar modifications, Airmen with the 4th Maintenance Group will concurrently perform routine maintenance on the aircraft to ensure optimal performance when the jets return to fully mission capable status.  

According to Pierce, as a jet moves from one phase to another in the modification process, an additional jet is added to the lineup. The Boeing Co. team is capable of working on four jets simultaneously, each in a different phase of the upgrade, until completion.

“Once the Boeing Co. team finalizes the radar modifications on an aircraft, an active duty aircraft maintainer will perform a quality assurance check to conclude the acceptance process," said Master Sgt. Christopher Bartz, 4th MXG aircraft modification program manager.

The first several aircraft to obtain the modification are from the 336th Fighter Squadron, but the 335th, 334th, and 333rd Fighter Squadrons' aircraft will also receive the modification as the process continues. 

After the team completes the upgrade, they perform quality assurance checks to make sure everything is proficient before flight tests begin with the squadron aircrew, and it’s deemed a fully capable jet.

“What I’m most looking forward to with the modification is that it will be more in line with what other fighters have across the Combat Air Force,” said Capt. Bryan Hladik, 336th FS pilot. “The new radar system is up there with the F-22 Raptors and F-35 Lighting IIs and will move us from using mid-80s/early-90s technology, to mid-2000s technology which is a massive change for us. The capability that it’s going to bring is huge.”

Hladik added that the F-15E flight simulator is capable of running the new radar system as well as the old system so current and incoming F-15E pilots and weapon systems officers can learn to operate the new system.   

Of all the 336th FS aircraft pulled for the upgrade, Hladik’s jet was the first selected to receive its radar upgrade of the APG-70 to the APG-82.

“It’s really awesome that the first jets going through the upgrade are Rocket jets, even cooler that the first one is the one with my name on it,” Hladik said. “It makes it a little more exciting, and I’m asking ‘Hey, let me know when it’s going to be done so I can fly it.’ The upgraded radar will further enhance our abilities to target Islamic State of Iraq and Levant through the weather. On days that visual acquisition of the target is not possible due to clouds, we will be able to take precise air-to-ground maps and target Joint Direct Attack Munition with a very high level of accuracy.”