Radar-Toting 727 Testbed “Voodoo 1” appears over Saipan

A unique testbed Boeing 727 plane, owned by US defense contractor Raytheon, has been tracked in an unusual octagon-shaped orbit around the islands of Saipan and Tinian over the past 24 hours during a a very rare trip to the Western Pacific region. Raytheon confirmed The war zone that the aircraft is participating in a series of experiments associated with a major US military exercise currently taking place on and around these islands involving air, sea and ground forces.

The highly modified California-based Boeing 727, which bears the US civil registration code N289MT and generally operates using the callsign “Voodoo 1”, made the flight around Saipan and Tinian from Andersen Air Force Base in the US Air Force in Guam. Saipan and Tinian are two US territories that are part of the larger Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Guam is also a US territory, but not part of the CNMI. The three islands have strategic importance, which has only grown in recent years as the US military has focused its attention on responding to potential threats and other challenges that China poses in this region, as well as elsewhere in the world. the world.

Online flight tracking data showing the route taken by Raytheon’s “Voodoo 1” test jet around Saipan and Tinian. Flightradar24

N289MT was previously seen arriving at Misawa Air Base in Japan, home to various forward deployed U.S. military units, on June 1. The Raytheon test aircraft had left his home at Ontario International Airport in California on May 30, then stopped en route at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington State and Adak Island in the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska.

Voodoo 1 is a key test asset for Raytheon. Historically, it has been primarily associated with the development of advanced radars, which it can perform in flight tests in its significantly modified nose, which is essentially that of an F-15 Eagle. This includes work on the AN/APG-63 series of Eagle radars, and more recently, the AN/APG-82 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) type, versions of which are used on the new F-15EX Eagle II fighters. the Air Force. and are integrated into existing F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets. Air Force B-52H bombers are also expected to receive a variant of the AN/APG-82 as part of a radar upgrade program.

A photo of Voodoo1 operating in the Southern California area. (Credit Matt Hartman)

Just a year ago, The war zone asked the F-15 radar program manager for Raytheon, Michelle Styczynski, about Voodoo 1 and its role in the company’s development initiatives. Here is that exchange:

Tyler: What is the lineage of the APG-82 compared to other Raytheon products, including outside of the F-15? Where does this lineage come from? And a weird part of that – how did ‘VOODOO1’, your 727 testbed jet, play a role in the development of this new radar?

MRS: Yeah, what a good question. So what Raytheon is really good at is obviously trying to provide cost saving alternatives to customers. What you get from the APG-82 actually grew out of the APG-79 radar which is on the F-18 and also the older APG-63V3 which is in the F-15C/D aircraft. Essentially, these two radars came together to create the APG-82. We have taken advantage of all these different developments in order to obtain this latest APG-82V1 radar.

About the [727] plane, it’s our RMT [Raytheon Multi-program Testbed] Platform. This aircraft has certainly given us a head start in terms of testing the various developments we are making. We use this plane to basically take what we do in our lab and put it in the sky before it goes into a test fighter plane. We can test some things and fix any bugs that we might see, so that helps reduce the cycle time as far as development goes, and we also try to save costs for our customers by doing that. We’ve certainly done that on our domestic developments and we do that on our international developments… It’s a really big part of how we reduce development cycle time to get faster technology to the customer faster.

Tyler: Is there an F-15 cockpit in there? How does the 727 act like an F-15?

MRS: Yes, there are different simulators. I don’t have the details on that, but I know we have different simulators that… what’s the word? Well this simulation…I keep using the word simulator over and over but it simulates the Boeing ADCP II (Advanced Display Processor II) there are simulations on a nav that we would get…and so it’s just a giant flight simulator in my mind. But I’m probably not making it as fair as possible, because this thing has given us a significant boost on several programs to get things done.

The teams are actually looking at the ability of the entire Raytheon technology portfolio to continue to leverage the advances we have in our development to expand that in terms of investment for more aircraft… Because this aircraft itself currently has very little capacity with all the work it does…so it is definitely being leveraged by our customers.

Raytheon’s Boeing 727 test bed also has a removable gondola-style belly fairing under the forward fuselage that could accommodate various types of sensors, such as radars with synthetic aperture imaging capability and multi-spectral cameras, and d other subsystems. Photos from plane spotters in Japan, as well as those from the United States who took the plane in flight near Salt Lake City and around Southern California earlier this year, show the gondola configuration. Images from Japan suggest the presence of a low-observability AESA radar or other type of compliant sensor in a diamond-shaped opening on the right side of the pod. A larger network, or at least a faded panel, is on the opposite site.

“Raytheon’s multi-program testbed, a modified Boeing 727, is participating in a number of experiments associated with Valiant Shield 22, a biennial U.S.-only field training exercise in the Indo-Pacific region and focused on integrating joint training into a multi-domain environment,” said a Raytheon Intelligence & Space spokesperson. The war zone. “Given operational security considerations, we cannot provide additional details on the nature of these experiences at this time.”

Valiant Shield 22 is the last iteration of this biennium. This series of large-scale field exercises, which officially started on June 6 and is expected to end at the end of next week, includes various training activities on and around Saipan and Tinian.

“The joint forces training exercises on Tinian will involve maritime operations in the port of Tinian, logistics platform activities in the port of San Jose, a refueling operation in the west field of Tinian while systems of air cargo delivery will occur on the North Tinian drop zone,” according to a CNMI Office of Military Affairs press release, as reposted by the Variety of the Marianas newspaper in May.

Training on Saipan is more complex and includes the use of four simulated 55-foot-long enemy road-mobile ballistic missile launchers, images of which are shown below, among others. Unsurprisingly, the fake ballistic missiles look vaguely visually similar in general to various Chinese types, such as the DF-21 and DF-26, which are of particular concern to US military planners. Detecting and being able to set up a kill chain to destroy these types of missiles would be essential in a real conflict with China or another state with strong ballistic missile capabilities.

CNMI Office of Military Affairs via Marianas Variety
CNMI Office of Military Affairs via Marianas Variety

CNMI’s Office of Military Affairs press release from May said that “this part of the training activities is intended to refine defense communication capabilities.” This could refer to testing and evaluation regarding the exchange of targeting information, as well as only general communications capabilities in support of operations targeting high value targets such as ballistic missile forces. motives of an opponent.

The orbit in which N289MT was tracked in flight around Saipan and Tinian could line up with a test of one or more sensor systems, with fake ballistic missiles potentially among the targets of interest. Aircraft-supported experiments could also involve new or improved communications and data-sharing suites. The U.S. military as a whole is only increasingly interested in ways to gather a wide range of information, merge it and otherwise process it, and then distribute it where it can do the most good. well, and to do it as quickly as possible. . Test advanced networking capabilities is an increasingly central component of major US military exercises at all levels.

Beyond that, conducting any of these experiments in conjunction with Valiant Shield 22 can only provide a valuable opportunity to see how Voodoo 1’s onboard systems perform in high-force scenarios. This particular exercise takes place in a live environment which is exactly where another high-end conflict could also occur.

More details on Voodoo 1’s flight from Guam, or at least hints as to what exactly the plane may have been up to, may well come as Valiant Shield 22 unfolds or in the official news on the exercise after its end.

Special thanks to the Twitter user @Righardt23 for bringing this theft to our attention.

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