Navy accelerates new ship radar to support emerging 'sea-attack' strategy

The Navy is accelerating integration of a new, much more powerful radar system intended to find and destroy enemy drones, missiles and aircraft at farther ranges by combining ballistic missile defense with standard air and missile defense -- all as part of an emerging service-wide strategic approach to increase Naval attack power and better network maritime warfighting platforms.

At the end of last year, the Navy laid the keel for its first new Flight III DDG 51 surface warfare destroyer armed with improved weapons, advanced sensors and new radar significantly more sensitive than most current systems, changing attack and defensive options for the surface fleet. Navy Flight III Destroyers have a host of defining new technologies not included in current ships, such as more on-board power to accommodate laser weapons, new engines, improved electronics, fast-upgradable software and a much more powerful radar.

The Flight III Destroyers will be able to see and destroy a much wider range of enemy targets at farther distances, due to the integration of a new, advanced technology radar system called AN/SPY-6 radar. This means that the ship can succeed in more quickly detecting both approaching enemy drones, helicopters and low flying aircraft as well as incoming ballistic missiles.

The SPY-6 has already been built into the Navy’s first Flight III destroyer, DDG 125, will be named the USS Jack H. Lucas. As part of this radar and weapons surface fleet acceleration, the Navy recently awarded a new deal to SPY-6 manufacturer Raytheon for two additional “shipsets” of the radar system in a $250 million deal. The added radars put Raytheon on contract to deliver nine new systems.

A new software and hardware enabled ship-based radar and fire control system, called Aegis Baseline 10, combines SPY-6 with ship software, command and control and targeting technology. The Baseline 10-SPY-6 integration will drive a new technical ability for the ship to combine air-warfare and ballistic missile defense into a single system, improving ship defenses, counterattack options and command and control decisions. The AN/SPY-6 radar, previously called Air and Missile Defense Radar, is engineered to simultaneously locate and discriminate multiple tracks, Mike Mills, Raytheon SPY-6 Program Director, explained to Warrior in an interview.

Service officials say the new ship uses newly integrated hardware and software with common interfaces, something which will enable continued modernization in future years. Called TI 16 (Technical Integration), the added components are engineered to give Aegis Baseline 10 additional flexibility should it integrate new systems such as emerging electronic warfare or laser weapons, according to Navy statements. This is of great significance to Raytheon developers such as Mills, who explain that SPY-6 radar is specifically integrated with the technical infrastructure necessary for Baseline 10. Last year, as part of a final step before formal integration of the radar onto Flight III Destroyers, the Navy conducted a successful intercept test against a ballistic missile target using the SPY-6(V)1, a Navy statement said.


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Raytheon’s SPY-6 development is designed to align with the Navy’s existing Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) strategy; the Navy’s DMO research and development approach, which has been progressing over the past year, is intended to better enable “localized sea control to generate larger combat effects through increasing the offensive power of individual components of the naval force,” as explained in a Naval Postgraduate School Research Summary by Paul Berry.

A particular focus of the Navy’s strategic trajectory of DMO includes Unmanned Surface Vehicles and Amphibious Assault Ships, according to an Office of Naval Research description of the program. A scalable radar engineered to reach further distances, and network across multiple nodes, seems to drive toward the DMO strategic goal of increasing “offensive power of individual components.” Detecting threats more quickly enables ship Commanders to greatly increase lethality by launching offensive attacks at specific targets… earlier than would otherwise be possible. Looking closely at some of the specifics outlined in the DMO strategy, it makes sense that unmanned systems and amphibs might receive special emphasis; the Navy’s fast-growing undersea drone fleet is already increasing range and adding substantial new attack weapons options to “distributed” air, sea and undersea operations.

The Navy’s evolving mission scope for amphibs, as well, continues to expand the envelope of distributed operations. One of the Navy's new undersea attack drones, called ORCA, is being configured to fire torpedoes. By drawing upon a new aviation-centric mission set, the first two America-class amphibious assault ships bring new dimensions to air-driven “distributed” attacks by increasing reach and lethality. F-35Bs and Ospreys on board amphibs, which will also operate on the well-deck equipped third America-class amphib (LHA 8), bring expanded attack reach for ship commanders. Contributing to this overall strategic push toward “distributed” attack options, Raytheon weapons developers are building a new special SPY-6 variant for amphibious assault ships.

The Navy strategy also calls for the analysis of “operational and force design requirements when implementing DMO concepts simultaneously with Integrated Air and Missile Defense operations,” something which synchronizes with the Navy-Raytheon SPY-6 strategy to combine ballistic missile defense with air and missile defense onto a single system.

The radar, able to simultaneously track multiple threats, has also successfully completed several simulated weapons engagement loop, verifying the technical ability to track both ballistic missiles and closer-in threats like enemy drones. The additional sensitivity and range enables the radar to detect, and enable Commanders to destroy, smaller threatening objects at much farther ranges - changing the tactical and strategic equation for Destroyers. Naturally, the farther away a threat can be detected, the much greater the chance it can be intercepted or destroyed; this changes the mission scope for Navy Destroyers, enabling them to operate in higher threat areas in some instances and expand their ability to protect other ships and assets.

Simulated weapons engagements enable the new radar to close what’s called the “track loop” for anti-air warfare and ballistic missile defense simulations. The process involves data signal processing of raw radar data to close a track loop and pinpoint targets. The AN/SPY-6 platform will enable next-generation Flight III DDG 51s to defend much larger areas compared with the AN/SPY-1D radar on existing destroyers.

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The SPY 6 radar has built upon and extended some of the core technical aims of the original SPY-1D, a system which first emerged years ago as a way to counter the low-altitude anti-ship cruise missile threat, according to an interesting essay from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Technical Digest. A key element on this aim, according to the paper, is to assess the “impact of surface clutter on system performance.” (Johns Hopkins Univ. APL, "Radar Development for Air and Missile Defense" 2018)

-- In 2000, the U.S. Navy established the Surface Navy Radar Roadmap, which, among other things, recognized the need for increased radar sensitivity beyond the current AN/SPY-1 to meet evolving BMD needs, increased clutter rejection to address small targets in littoral environments, and wide instantaneous bandwidth for BMD discrimination -- Johns Hopkins Univ., APL, “Radar Development for Air and Missile Defense."

This multi-year developmental emphasis outlined in the essay is significant, as previous efforts established a key technological foundation for the SPY-6; the additional radar sensitivity includes an ability to better discriminate clutter, debris and other objects from actual threats. Higher fidelity radar, such as a SPY-6, can discern threats in adverse weather and operate in congested combat circumstances to a much greater extent than previous systems, a technology sought after for many years by the Navy as cited in the John's Hopkins essay.

This ability, much of which rests upon high-frequency signals, helps give the SPY 6 its ground-breaking scope. The SPY-6 can distinguish approaching enemy anti-ship missiles close to the surface from less relevant objects and also track higher-altitude ballistic missiles -- on the same system. Given this scope, the SPY-6 radar systems streamline otherwise disparate fire-control technologies; the SPY 6 can cue short-range, closer-in interceptors as well as longer-range ballistic missile interceptors such as an SM-3. This shortens sensor to shooter time and offers war commanders a longer window with which to make decisions about which countermeasure is needed.

The radar works by sending a series of electro-magnetic signals or “pings” which bounce off an object or threat and send back return-signal information identifying the shape, size, speed or distance of the object encountered.

​The development of the radar system is also hastened by the re-use of software technology from existing Navy dual-band and AN/TPY-2 radar programs, Raytheon developers added.

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Raytheon engineers explained that the AN/SPY-6 is the first truly scalable radar, built with radar building blocks - Radar Modular Assemblies - that can be grouped to form any size radar aperture, either smaller or larger than currently fielded radars.

“All cooling, power, command logic and software are scalable. This scalability could allow for new instantiations, such as back-fit on existing DDG 51 destroyers and installation on aircraft carriers, amphibious warfare ships, frigates, or the Littoral Combat Ship and DDG 1000 classes, without significant radar development costs,” a Raytheon written statement said.

Mills explained that all variants of the SPY-6 are architected on a common software baseline, thus enabling the possibility for further integration on additional Navy platforms. In fact, different variants of the radar have been scaled for a range of different mission sets on various platforms. Alongside the integration of AN/SPY- (V)1 for Flight III Destroyers, Raytheon and the Navy are now integrating several additional variants for carriers and amphibs, specifically tailored to their respective mission scopes. The SPY-6 (V) 2, for instance, is a smaller rotating radar and a SPY-6 (V) 3 has three fixed radar faces on the deck houses. These variants will go on both Nimitz class and Ford-class carriers. The (V) 3 has nine radar module assemblies. The v3 has three fixed spaces looking out at a different angle, covering 360-degrees with 120-degree panels each. Finally, there is a SPY-6 (V)4 which will be integrated onto existing DDG 51 IIA destroyers during a mid-life upgrade. The (V) 4 has 24 Radar Module Assemblies, compared to the v1, which has 37.

The Navy’s DMO strategic approach calls for a common systems architecture intended to better accommodate upgrades and new variants as SPY-6 technology continues to progress. The ONR and Naval Postgraduate School papers on DMO explain that future research will focus on what’s called “Adaptive Force Packages,” meaning developers will tailor innovations, systems engineering and emerging technologies to specific combat applications such as anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare.

All of these SPY-6 radars, which bring a sensitivity expanded beyond legacy or existing radars, have their power, cooling and scope adjusted to fit the specific missions of various platforms. Destroyers, for instance, will need to conduct Ballistic Missile Defense to protect carriers in Carrier Strike Groups. Amphibs and Carriers, which are receiving a different SPY 6 variant, have different mission needs.

​The new SPY 6 radar uses a chemical compound semi-conductor technology called Gallium Nitride which can amplify high-power signals at microwave frequencies; it enables better detection of objects at greater distances when compared with existing commonly used materials such as Gallium Arsenide, Mills explained.

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Mills explained that Gallium Nitride is designed to be extremely efficient and use a powerful aperture in a smaller size to fit on a DDG 51 destroyer with reduced weight and reduced power consumption. Gallium Nitride has a much higher breakdown voltage so it is capable of much higher power densities, Mills said.

The AN/SPY-6 is being engineered to be easily repairable with replaceable parts, fewer circuit boards and cheaper components than previous radars; the SPY-6 is also designed to rely heavily on software innovations, something which reduces the need for different spare parts.

However, special technological adaptations have been underway to ensure the new, larger radar system can be sufficiently cooled and powered up with enough electricity. Regarding electricity, the Navy previously awarded a competitive contract to DRS technologies to build power conditioning modules – systems designed to turn the ship’s on-board electrical power into 1000-volt DC power for the AMDR. The DDG Flight III’s are also being built with the same Rolls Royce power turbine engineered for the DDG 1000, yet designed with some special fuel-efficiency enhancements.

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The Navy has been developing a new 300-ton AC cooling plant slated to replace the existing 200-ton AC plant. Navy SPY-6 documents describing the on-board technology as Common Array Cooling systems, specifically highlight a needed integration between the cooling units and the ship’s array subsystems, antenna interface and digital beam forming. All of this is naturally, according to Navy technical papers, connected to a power distribution system, digital signal processing and radar control processing. The SPY-6 operates a four-faced array to achieve 360-degree functionality, with 144 T/R (transmit-receive) modules per Radar Module Assembly. Before becoming operational, the new cooling plant is being engineered to tolerate vibration, noise and shocks, such as those generated by an underwater explosion.