ARLINGTON, Va. — Raytheon Technologies hopes to follow the successful at-sea testing of one version of its SPY-6 radar last month with wins on other variants later this year.
The SPY-6 was operated at sea for the first time ever in December, when future destroyer Jack H. Lucas departed the Ingalls Shipbuilding yard in Mississippi for its alpha trials, the first in a series of at-sea tests before a ship is delivered to the Navy. The Air and Missile Defense Radar, the SPY-6 V1 with four large radar faces, had to be tightly integrated with the Ingalls-built ship and the Lockheed Martin-made Aegis Combat System.
“Coming out of those trials, we really hit a home run with the performance of the radar out at sea, which the Navy is very, very excited about — to the point that they ended up ending the trials a day early because all the objectives were met early,” Mike Mills, the SPY-6 program director for Raytheon Missiles & Defense, told Defense News.
Mills said Raytheon and Lockheed Martin had been running a single radar face and combat system in land-based test centers in Moorestown, N.J., and at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii for years, allowing the system to track “targets” over the ground and over the ocean.
“Getting into trials, a lot of that risk is already burned down. Really where you’re at now is, you’ve brought four faces together instead of one face,” Mills said.
He said there were a couple items the team saw during alpha trials — all software issues that can be addressed remotely — that they’ll have to fix before the next round of at-sea testing, as well as at-sea testing for the V2 and V3 radars later this year and into 2024.
“Everything that we’ve learned over the last couple years, we’re applying to all those future platforms. So that’s going to really pay off for the Navy’s test program ... to get these things out to the fleet as quickly as possible,” Mills said.
The first of those tests will begin later this year.
The future amphibious transport dock Richard M. McCool Jr. has its V2 small rotating radar already installed, and the team at Ingalls will activate the radar in the next couple of months, Mills said. Once the radar and the combat system are up and running, the team can prepare for the first at-sea trials scheduled for late summer.
Up at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding yard in Virginia, future aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy also has its V3 small fixed radar installed, even as final construction activities continue on the Ford-class carrier. Mills said he expects the ship construction team to be ready for Raytheon to integrate and activate the radar in the late summer or early fall, ahead of trials and the carrier’s expected delivery to the Navy in 2024.
The V2 and V3 systems use the same radar face, but the V2 uses a single rotating face and the V3 uses three fixed faces to achieve 360-degree coverage. Because the radar faces are the same, though, Mills said Raytheon has gotten a ton of data to inform both efforts after running the radar system at a test site in Wallops Island, Va., since April 2019. The radar there is connected to the Ship Self-Defense System, the combat system that runs on amphibious ships and aircraft carriers, also managed by Lockheed Martin.
Mills said there’s plenty happening with the SPY-6 radar this year beyond at-sea testing.
For the V4, the medium-sized, four-face radar being backfit onto the Flight IIA destroyers, Mills said the Navy and Raytheon are working through the step-by-step plan of ripping out an old SPY-1 radar and installing a new SPY-6. Several lessons have already emerged.
“When you de-install the SPY-1 hardware off the ship, the cutout on the deckhouse is a hair different for the SPY-1 than it is for the SPY-6. So what we did to overcome that challenge is we came up with an adapter plate design that goes on the back of the radar,” Mills explained, allowing the shipyard workers to place the new radar and adapter plate right into the hole left by the old radar instead of adding time and risk to the project by asking the repair workers to do more extensive work on the side of the ship.
Mills added Raytheon is expecting the Navy to put its first V4 backfit radars on contract in the next couple of months.
On V3, Raytheon has delivered all the below-deck equipment and two of the three faces to Marinette Marine for the first frigate. The third face will arrive in April, well ahead of when the shipyard will be ready to install it.
More broadly, Mills said the production line is humming along and ready to respond to any changes in the shipbuilding plan — including additional Flight III destroyers Congress asked the Navy to buy in fiscal 2023 and potentially beyond. Mills said the Navy was originally considering a much larger buy than what ended up being included in the five-year SPY-6 contract, so the production line and Raytheon’s suppliers are ready to scale up if needed to avoid bottlenecks.
Mills said the company is also in regular talks with international customers. “There’s a lot of interest,” he said based on ongoing talks with 10 countries. They’ll likely wait until the radar reaches initial operational capability in 2024, he added, but “that’s when the flood gates will open and they’ll start buying radars.”
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.