WASHINGTON — The Army plans to award within weeks up to four efforts to generate concepts for a missile defense radar capable of seeing 360 degrees, according to Barry Pike, the Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space.

“Before the end of the month, we should have four concept definitions contracts underway, and those should help inform our risk-reduction and prototyping phase that we will go into next,” Pike told Defense News in an interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention.

“We expect or hope to carry at least three vendors into that depending on how things shake out into that prototyping phase,” he added.

The Army decided earlier this year — after analyzing whether it would upgrade or replace the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System’s radar — that it would hold a competition to procure a new 360-degree, lower-tier air-and-missile defense sensor.

[US Army to hold competition for Patriot radar replacement]

The plan is to begin analysis of materiel solutions in fiscal 2018, a service spokesman told Defense News back in June.

The service has spent years grappling over when and how it will replace its current Raytheon-manufactured Patriot system first fielded in 1982. At one point, the Army planned to procure Lockheed Martin’s Medium Extended Air Defense System as the replacement, but it canceled its plans to acquire the system, opting instead to procure key components of a new Integrated Air and Missile Defense System, or IAMD, separately.

Northrop Grumman is developing the IAMD’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, the command-and-control architecture for the system. The Army also plans to use the Patriot PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles in the future system.

Key to the future system is a 360-degree threat-detection capability achieved through a new radar. The current radar has blind spots.

The Army expects the radar it procures to be new, not simply an upgrade to a current radar.

“We believe it will be a new radar, a new capability,” Pike said, that will integrate into IBCS, Sentinel radars, lower-tier missile defense sensors, [the Indirect Fire Protection Capability,] the multimission launchers, all the rest of the components of that system.”

While Pike was reluctant to talk about a timeline for bringing a new radar into existence because the Army needs to be able to get the concept definition contracts underway and enter the risk-reduction phase, he did say: “We are thinking in the mid-‘20s time frame. The 2025 to 2027 time frame is something that we currently see as viable, but we also need to get a little bit more information from industry to see how mature they are.”

The Army believes the fundamental technology to build a radar is mature, Pike acknowledged, but the service wants “to integrate all the piece parts, and you have to integrate with the multiplicity of system that we are trying to pull together into the overall architecture. So generally speaking, those end up being in a fairly comprehensive test program.”

Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have been vocal about a desire to compete for the new IAMD radar, but it’s possible other companies will produce capable offerings.

Both companies swiftly responded to a request for information released in the summer of 2016 asking for possible radar capabilities for a future missile defense system, with the sensor expected to reach initial operational capability prior to fiscal 2028.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

More In AUSA