WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee singled out, in a short summary of issues addressed in its defense policy bill, what it believes is a sluggish plan to field a new radar for the US Army's air and missile defense architecture that would replace the Patriot system's radar.
The committee is so concerned with the Army's plan, or lack thereof, that it wants to withhold program office funding until the service develops a new plan to replace the Patriot radar system, according to the chairman's mark of the fiscal 2017 bill.
"The Army strategy would delay fielding a new radar, despite high-technology readiness levels, until 2028; this means our warfighters will be deployed with a 58-year-old radar before they get a modernized capability," the summary reads. "The current Army strategy is a case study in how a broken acquisition system results in unacceptable delays in providing the warfighter the technology they need, paced ahead of adversary threats."
HASC lawmakers would withhold 50 percent of 2017 funding for the Patriot capability until the Army could show its modernized Patriot radar would be interoperable with the ballistic missile defense system and other air and missile defense capabilities. Also, the Army chief and secretary would be required to determine whether the requirement to pursue a modernized radar is suitable for acquisition through an Army Rapid Capabilities office and would have to submit the terms of a competition for the radar that would ensure fair competition, according to the HASC's Strategic Forces Subcommittee's mark released last week.
The Army is expected to hold a competition for a new radar that would be incorporated into its Integrated Air and Missile Defense system, but not much has been detailed on the service's plan to move forward.
Two major air and missile defense systems makers — Raytheon and Lockheed Martin — are poised to submit solutions for a new radar now.
Raytheon's bet on a new radar for its Patriot system is now fully functional and made its public debut at the Association of the US Army's Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, in March.
Raytheon’s Gallium Nitride (GaN) Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is a sizeable bet. The company has invested over more than $200 million to develop GaN technology over 16 years, augmented with US government investment over time. The Patriot system was fielded to the Army in 1982 and Raytheon has continuously upgraded the system with investments from the US and 13 partner nations. The system is expected to stay fielded until at least 2040.
If or when the Army decides to hold a competition for a new radar, Raytheon's competition will likely be Lockheed Martin, which has spent the last 15 years developing the Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System (MEADS) that includes a 360-degree radar with the United States, Germany and Italy.
The US decided against buying MEADS, and, after closing out the technology-development phase of the program, decided not to even harvest the technology coming from the program for use in its missile defense programs. But Germany is planning to continue developing MEADS with Lockheed and MBDA Deutschland. Italy is waiting for Germany to mint its development deal before getting on board.
New slides obtained by Defense News from an industry day this month indicate the Army doesn't intend to move very quickly on a new radar, with plans to field it as late as 2028. The slides indicate the Army plans to move into a technology development phase later this year, but wouldn't get to the engineering and manufacturing development phase until 2020.
The Army has a bridging strategy to modify the existing Patriot system through sole-source upgrades and the focus on that could be contributing to the slower pace of procuring a future radar through a competition.
The Army completed an analysis of alternatives, which it has kept close-hold. Defense News obtained a "for official use only" copy of slides late last year outlining findings from the AOA conducted over the course of 2015. The full analysis is classified as secret, according to the document.
It’s clear from the slides, that the preference is to develop a newer 360-degree radar that meets emerging requirements and would keep pace with the more challenging threat environment expected in the future. But developing a new radar, rather than upgrading Patriot, would cost more than the Army has in its budget for such an effort.
The slides show the Army can afford to modernize Patriot and give it 360-degree capability, the slides show, but it is predicted that the missile wouldn't be able to keep up against a wide range of modern and future threats even with a baseline upgrade.
An Office of the Secretary of Defense study advisory group met last November to determine the right path, but sources say more needed to be discussed and fleshed out following the meeting. More discussions were scheduled for this spring.
This is not the first time Congress has withheld Patriot funding in order to get more clarity on the program’s modernization strategy. Congress has regularly done so as it continues to be dissatisfied with Army-provided details on its modernization strategy and cost of Patriot upgrades.