WASHINGTON — Even as Raytheon Missiles and Defense is building and installing its first SPY-6 radars, it’s also working with the U.S. Navy to add new functions to the radars with a software tool that would connect ships’ radars for an enhanced view of potential threats on the ocean.
Four versions of the SPY-6 radar will outfit seven types of ships in the Navy’s future fleet. It’s still early in the program: Just one destroyer, the Jack H. Lucas, has had its large V1 Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) installed and turned on to begin integration testing. The first of the smaller V2 and V3 Enterprise Air Surveillance Radars (EASR) are slated for installation in 2022.
But Raytheon is planning for the day when dozens of these radars are out at sea, with the potential to communicate with one another and offer a clearer view of the battlespace for Navy and joint force operators.
Raytheon, the Office of Naval Research, and the Above Water Sensors office in the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) recently completed a demonstration of the Network Cooperative Radar concept, which they say is the underpinning for the Navy’s distributed maritime operations concept.
Bryan Cavener, director of advanced technology at Raytheon Missiles and Defense, told Defense News this month in an email the project showed “how multiple radars could communicate and cooperate together on objectives. Network Cooperative Radar is consistent with the U.S. Navy’s vision for Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), which hinges on distributing forces throughout the battlespace and then linking those units together in a robust network architecture.”
With this more complete picture of the operating area, the Navy can make better decisions to achieve and maintain sea control and project power, he said. “They could, for example, track an object together, communicating information to each other on what each radar ‘sees.’”
This capability could become critical in the future, as adversaries become better at hiding ships, aircraft and weapons in both the physical environment and the electromagnetic environment.
“One of the principal benefits of distributed sensing is the ability of forces in different parts of the battlespace to share their tactical data, creating a more complete picture across the force,” Cavener said. “NCR-enabled sensors will have a substantially improved collective capability to see through operational factors that might mask an adversary unit; where one ship might not see a contact, a ship in a different part of the battlespace might be well-[positioned] to track the contact and then share that information with the rest of the force.”
Though Raytheon and the Navy did not detail the next steps for this effort, which began in 2016 and falls under the Navy’s Future Naval Capabilities science and technology program, Cavener said demonstrating flexible hardware with software-defined capabilities is an important first step in realizing distributed maritime operations.
“Our new ‘software-defined aperture’ model of radar development means we can deploy smarter radars every day through cyber-hardened software upgrades,” he said. “Programs like Network Cooperative Radar and [the Radar Modular Assembly-based Flexible Distributed Radar] are so exciting because they are proving out this model. In the case of NCR, these are SPY-6 radars that we developed new software for to perform distributed sensing.”
In a news release, PEO IWS Rear Adm. Seiko Okano praised the distributed sensing demonstration as an enabler of future operations.
“SPY-6 will provide an unprecedented level of protection to naval forces, and software updates like this demonstrate that it’s only getting better,” she said. “Programs like NCR ensure SPY-6 will be the backbone of our distributed sensing capabilities in the future.”
First, though, the radars will have to be fielded.
Jack H. Lucas, the first Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, has its AN/SPY-6(V)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar installed and up and running. The ship achieved the “light off” of its Aegis Combat System on Dec. 17, marking the start of onboard combat system testing and crew training. This is the first time the new radar and the Aegis Baseline 10 software have interacted on a ship, though they’ve gone through extensive and ongoing land-based testing.
At Raytheon’s manufacturing plant in Andover, Mass., workers are producing one radar array a month, or a pace of three ship sets a year.
“We’re really starting to turn the crank on production,” Scott Spence, the director of naval radar programs at Raytheon Missiles and Defense, told Defense News over the summer.
A plan for future production calls for a maximum requirement of 59 ship sets over five years, or about 12 a year across all four variants — with the largest V1 going on Flight III destroyers; the small rotating V2 going on America-class amphibious assault ships, San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks and Nimitz-class aircraft carriers; the small fixed V3 supporting Ford-class carriers and the Constellation-class frigates; and the large V4 being retrofitted onto Flight IIA destroyers.
A separate production line builds the smaller V2 and V3 radars, Spence said, and that line is also getting up and running ahead of an increase in demand. Spence called 12 a year the upper limit of what they’d expect — particularly given the funding challenges that could put frigates and DDG backfits on a slower path forward, and the fact that the Navy won’t commit to a multi-ship buy on amphibious ships due to uncertainty about how many the service wants.
Still, he said, Raytheon is doing what it can to make these sales appealing. On the DDG backfit side, Spence said Raytheon has been working hard to reduce the time it would take to install the new radar in a maintenance availability.
The large four-sided radar, with each side made up of 24 2-foot-by-2-foot Radar Modular Assemblies — compared to the even-larger V1 radar that has 37 RMAs per side — will replace the legacy AN/SPY-1D. Spence said the drawings are already done and match the power and cooling capabilities of the Flight IIA destroyers; now they’re working on the installation and integration plan.
“It’s really about trying to get that ship in and out of its [availability] as quickly as possible and get it back in the service. So we’ve been able to shrink that timeline down quite a bit. … And that was probably one of the biggest concerns I think the Navy had, is they didn’t want the ships laid up for a long period of time, as you can imagine,” Spence said.
Installing the first V1 radar on Jack H. Lucas helped refine that plan, he said.
“One of the ones we really looked at was how to actually fasten the array to the ship structure, and create a basically bolt-in configuration that allows you to very quickly put that array on there. So we took a lot of the lessons learned to how we’ve lifted and loaded the SPY-6(V)1 onto the Flight IIIs and said, let’s duplicate that type of infrastructure.”
On V2 and V3, Raytheon conducted important testing in 2021 to get the radars ready for installation and integration in 2022. The summertime test event at the Wallops Island Test Facility in Virginia focused on anti-air warfare, air traffic control operations and power system modeling, Spence said, adding that the testing was shortened because of the common hardware and software shared with the V1, which already conducted significant testing ahead of its installation on a ship.
The additional capabilities tested over the summer are needed for amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers to control the fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft coming and going, and due to the enhanced threats they may face as capital ships.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.