HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Lockheed Martin brought a new next-generation air-and-missile defense radar to the Space and Missile Defense Symposium this week that it hopes will help the U.S. Army finalize its requirements for a new 360-degree radar for the service’s future Integrated Air and Missile Defense system.
Earlier this summer the U.S. Army made clear it intends to hold a competition to replace its Patriot Air and Missile Defense radar and told Defense News it plans to begin analysis of materiel solutions in fiscal year 2018.
The service has spent years grappling with when and how it will replace its current Raytheon-manufactured Patriot system first fielded in 1982. At one point, the U.S. Army planned to procure Lockheed’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 IAMD system separately.
Northrop Grumman is developing the IAMD’s Integrated Battle Command System, the command and control architecture for the system. The U.S. Army also plans to use the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles in the future system.
Key to the future system is to have a 360-degree threat detection capability, as the current one has blind spots.
The U.S. Army’s decision to hold a competition for the radar after spending the past year trying to decide whether it would upgrade the current radar or replace it seemed to have spurred Lockheed’s radar, unveiling just a few miles from where the service’s Lower-Tier Air and Missile Defense, or LTAMDS, project office is set up, which is tasked to run the competition.
“If you look at the environment that the warfighter is operating in today for these types of sensors, it requires performance in clutter, not just land and sea clutter and air clutter, but also the electronic interference as well,” Mark Mekker, Lockheed’s director of ground-based radars, said. “So every digital element provides the capability and the technology to be able to perform an enhanced mission against advanced threats in the future.”
Lockheed is leveraging a rich history of technology and manufacturing development work over roughly 40 years to rapidly bring the new radar to the fight faster than a traditional program.
And since the U.S. Army has struggled for many years to replace the Patriot system and its critical elements, fielding something quickly will be critical.
In the area of mobility, Lockheed is using the same leveling system and motion control that is used for the U.S. Army’s AN/TPQ-53 counterfire radars currently in production.
The company is also using discrimination algorithms from the Long Range Discrimination Radar the company is building for ballistic missile threat detection in Alaska.
“If you go back a little bit further, and you reach back into our signal processing that we had, not only on our MEADS program, but on our current ground-based air surveillance radars, where we have ballistic missile detection algorithms, and we are already doing 360-degree rotation in those radar systems,” Mekker said. “We were able to bring that software and start with that software as a baseline.”
But there are also some major differences in the radar compared to Lockheed’s previous efforts.
The biggest difference is both radars needed for missile defense — a surveillance radar and a fire-control radar — are combined into one radar using dual-band technology, Mekker said.
And while gallium nitride, a semiconductor material used to achieve 360-degree capability and touted by Lockheed’s competitor Raytheon, is incorporated into the radar, Mekker said, the technology that is bringing its radar to the next level of capability is what it calls “Every Element Digital Beam Forming.”
A traditional radar has more centralized receivers and exciters where an antenna feeds directly into that, Mekker explained. “With technology and what we are able to mature in the last five years is bringing that technology and functionality up into the antenna so behind every radiating element you have your own little mini-radar system that is configurable on the fly via software.”
This means the system could be rotating and the operator could take half the array and resource it to do one mission, like fire control, and the other half to conduct surveillance, or it could switch over to anti-electronic attack capability.
Mekker said Lockheed is looking forward to working with the U.S. Army over the next year on maturing its requirements to meet current and future threats.
Two other companies are believed to have offerings for the LTAMDS competition: Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. There’s room in the U.S. Army’s budget to evaluate three radar offerings.
Raytheon has been very vocal about its GaN Active Electronically Scanned Array sensor for the next-generation Patriot radar, which will provide a 360-degree capability.
The company said it couldn’t comment on the LTAMDS for competitive reasons but noted the radar it has built has logged over 1,000 hours of testing.
Northrop Grumman has been the most quiet about any potential offering it could put forward and was not able to discuss anything it might be working on at the symposium.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.