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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Monitor the enemy on the ground or the enemy in the air — that has been the dilemma for Super Hornet pilots.

The F/A-18F combat jets' older-generation radar system can be operated only in air or ground mode and is unable to track targets on both fronts in a combat situation.

But the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, the newest radar upgrade to the Super Hornet, has changed that. It allows the Super Hornet pilots to simultaneously track and target multiple air and ground targets, according to the U.S. Navy and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

Cmdr. Christopher "Gator" Chope of the Navy's Strike Fighter Squadron 22 said the new radar system has changed the playing field when it comes to combat.

The VFA-22 Block 2 Super Hornets are the first to be operationally deployed with the APG-79 AESA radar, which was jointly designed by Boeing and Raytheon. The 12 jets are aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, which made a port visit to Sasebo last week.

"It is not a small incremental step ... this is a whole other ballgame with this radar," said Chope, who commands the first squadron of Super Hornets operationally deployed with the APG-79 system.

The radar gives pilots increased ability to fly through an integrated air defense system, pick out and destroy targets on a cluttered battlefield, and get out unharmed, Chope said.

The APG-79 is also a solid-state radar system, meaning it has no moving parts, which greatly reduces the need for maintenance and increases the system's life expectancy, he said.

"It is just a much more lethal and much more survivable platform," Chope said.

The Reagan was just recently deployed and the new radars have yet to be involved in combat or any international exercises in the Pacific region, Chope said.

According to Boeing, the system also gives pilots a deep view of the battle space so they can choose to stay out of range of an enemy or engage it.

Meanwhile, it is more reliable than past systems and will cut back on upkeep costs, said Bob Gower, F/A-18 and EA-18 programs vice president at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

"The AESA radar in operation on the Super Hornet is extremely reliable and has no scheduled maintenance for 10-20 years — that's great news for maintainers," Gower wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

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