View from the cockpit: Former fighter pilots explain air dominance

Time was running out for Cesar “Rico” Rodriguez and the rest of the NATO fighter pilots. They’d pulled off a surprise strike on a Serbian surface-to-air missile site, but the attack was dragging on—and the enemy was about to hit back.

Rodriguez picked up an enemy fighter streaking north from Pristina. It was almost close enough to attack. Rodriguez fired his weapon—Raytheon’s Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM)—and watched a fireball light up the night as the missile found its target.

“Had I not had an AMRAAM, I would have had to get closer to my air-to-air threat, which puts me into his weapons engagement zone,” Rodriguez said, recalling that night in March 1999. “This is all about life and death.”

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Procured by 37 countries, the combat-proven AMRAAM has been operational and integrated onto the F-16, F-15, F/A-18, F-22, Typhoon, Gripen, Tornado and Harrier.

For pilots like Rodriguez, Raytheon’s missiles, radars, jammers, avionics and other systems are more than just equipment—they’re the key to air superiority and guarantee allied air forces can control the skies.

They include the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar and the MALD-J, a tiny jammer that can fly 500 miles by itself.

Rodriguez, who has flown everything from the A-10 Warthog to the F-15, knows better than most what “air dominance” means to fighter pilots. Now retired, he works as a director for Raytheon’s Air Warfare Systems product line, where he helps grow the company’s missiles business at home and abroad.

“Air dominance means you go in and hold a line until either they force you out or you decide to come out,” he said. “When you have air dominance over a space, you control who comes in, who goes out. You control what effect is taking on inside of that area.”

Air dominance is accomplished through a combination of tools and techniques, starting with the morning briefing.

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The Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar in the nose of an F-16 Fighting Falcon.


Situational awareness

The information a fighter pilot gets before taking off is critical. It provides situational awareness—knowledge regarding threats and intentions of enemy forces, as well as the status of his or her own aircraft.

“If you look at the products we produce as a Raytheon team, from radars to electronic warfare suites, all those components are meant to be the eyes and ears of the battlespace,” Rodriguez said.

The farther the distance a pilot can see and the wider the bandwidth he can hear, the greater situational awareness of the battlespace. That is where satellites and data links come into play.

Once pilots are airborne, they can use the many tools at their disposal. For example, Raytheon’s active electronically scanned array, or AESA, radar can identify today’s fighter aircraft from a distance.

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“We give the pilot command and control; superior situational awareness,” said Ken Murphy, a director of international business development for Raytheon.

Murphy is a U.S. Air Force Weapons School graduate and former fighter pilot, with 27 years of flying everything from F-4 and F-22 fighter jets to bombers like the B-52 and B-1.

“With today’s avionics, we provide all-weather, day-night capability and identify targets as friend or foe,” Murphy said, adding that the pilot can “see before being seen,” thanks to the company’s electronic warfare technology.

“We provide all the information and systems that make the aircraft as effective as they can be,” he said.

Engaging the enemy with superior weaponry

And when the pilot’s inside the engagement envelope, missiles like the AMRAAM®; AIM-9X® Block II, the latest variant of the Sidewinder missile; and MALD® allow the warfighter to dominate the skies.

Raytheon integrates these products to provide a full spectrum of firepower for the pilot.

“It’s about collaboration. What we’ve done in the last 10 years with products like AMRAAM, AIM-9X, MALD and the AESA radar—all of these would have been conceptual discussions when I was on active duty,” Rodriguez said. “And now, here we are fielding them and making them the core capabilities of not only the U.S. warfighter, but also the coalition warfighter.”

The variety of Raytheon technologies that support the fighter pilot gives the company deep expertise when it comes to helping the pilot engage and return.

“Very few, probably no other company in the world, has that level of influence over the air dominance domain,” Rodriguez said. “We help them ‘hold the line’ and come back safely.”

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AIM-9X is actively deployed on U.S. Navy and Air Force F-15, F-16, and F-18 aircraft, and is further deployed in the air forces of 18 international customers.

The battle is also fought in cyberspace, the newest warfighting domain. Raytheon provides today’s forces with cyber-hardening technology to confront digital threats. The company is also providing a Command and Control Network, critical to battlespace communication.

The mission debrief

After landing the aircraft, the pilot debriefs the mission, providing a reconstruction of what took place and why. Whether it’s viewing a radar tape, studying a static visual or listening to radio calls, an in-depth review of events occurs.

With today’s pilot flying fewer hours than in the past, the debrief is critical. It offers the warfighter an opportunity to make the most of every mission.

Rodriguez predicts the future of air dominance will involve kinetic and non-kinetic effectors, cyber offense and defense, and it will move into space.

“Air dominance is a big responsibility,” he said. “It’s imperative that we get it right.”

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