Subject matter experts from across the US Air Force (USAF) gathered at Duluth Air National Guard Base (ANGB) in Minnesota to exercise the end-to-end employment of the AN/ASQ-236 Dragon’s Eye radar pod – which was recently fielded on the resident Fighting Falcons of the 148th Fighter Wing (FW) – and to establish a plan to operationalise the pod for all Air National Guard (ANG)-operated F-16C/Ds.
Held from January 24-26, the exercise welcomed representatives from the USAF’s Air Combat Command; Air Force Materiel Command; Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC) to the home of the 148th FW. It took place after months of modification work was carried out on the aircraft, software and relevant support equipment. The 148th FW – which has operated the Fighting Falcon since 1990 – was the first to accomplish all of the requirements set out for the ANG’s operational F-16C/D fleet.
During the visit, the team of subject matter experts had clear objectives, which included the installation of the ASQ-236 and validating the flight operations on Post-Block F-16s that are using unique software programmes. Aircraft armament systems specialists from the 148th FW, alongside AN/ASQ-236 programme managers, installed the pylons for the pod, while fighter aircraft avionics specialists installed the AN/ASQ-236 onto the aircraft. The first Post-Block F-16 fitted with the AN/ASQ-236 was flown by Maj Michael ‘Ox’ Kuzmuk, Chief of Wing Weapons for the 148th FW, on January 26.
Commenting on this, Kuzmuk said: “Pilots were trained by AATC subject matter experts on the pod’s software and aircraft systems integration, including troubleshooting and emergency procedures management. Additionally, we trained to and refined best practices for mission planning and post flight analysis, which included post mission intelligence distribution.”
An externally mounted Ku-band active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar pod, the AN/ASQ-236 Dragon’s Eye provides detailed maps for surveillance, coordinate generation and bomb impact assessments. This pod enables Combat Air Forces (CAF) to geolocate points of interest during the day or at night in all weather conditions and complements the F-16C/D’s APG-83 AESA Fire Control Radar (FCR), which was recently fielded by the 148th Maintenance Group.
The requirements for the AN/ASQ-236 pod were set out by the USAF after Operation Desert Storm (1991), when the air arm recognised the need for an all-weather precision geolocation and reconnaissance system with the reliability inherent in AESA radars. The USAF subsequently teamed up with Northrop Grumman to design, fabricate and test the system now known as the AN/ASQ-236 Dragon’s Eye. The pod is already being used operationally by the Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle.
With a long history of Fighting Falcon operations, the 148th FW now flies the F-16CM/DM Block 50 variant of the multi-role fighter and serves as a multi-purpose Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD/DEAD) and NORAD Aerospace Control Alert (ACA)-trained ANG unit. It has been designated as the ANG’s Center of Excellence for the AN/ASQ-236 pod. Commenting on this, Col Nathan Aysta – commander of the 148th FW – said: “As the Center of Excellence, the 148th will retain expertise in the loading, distribution, training and employment of the AN/ASQ-236 and the capabilities it brings to the warfighter.”