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US Navy's New Radar Faces Funding Threats

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This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

It is the best of times and the worst of times for the U.S. Navy's air and missile defense radar (AMDR) program.

On the technological and program front, AMDR is in fine shape. The competing contractors tout the capability and affordability of their suites and systems, while the leading platform for the ship—the Flight III Arleigh Burke DDG-51-class destroyer—is proceeding as planned.

But there is the impact of sequestration, now slated to take effect on March 1, under the 2012 U.S. Budget Control Act. In such an austere scenario, the only relief afforded to the Navy and other services would be authority for reprogram funding.

In deciding how to reprogram money, Navy officials will have to decide whether to fund maintenance and support for existing missions or for vital but future service needs such as AMDR or the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). That could be a losing game, officials acknowledge, for assets yet to come. This is especially true as current—and improved—vessel platforms and systems such as the SPY radar-based Aegis system suite are proving capable for ship and ballistic missile defense (BMD).

The choice of which contractor to develop and build AMDR likely will depend on which team offers the best price in meeting the Navy's requirements, according to officials at Northrop Grumman, one of the competitors.

“The requirements are out there,” says Carl Herbermann, Northrop Grumman's director of surface radar development. Instead of trying to increase performance, he says, Northrop can focus on the best cost savings for levels set by the Navy.

Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates say AMDR will cost $2.2 billion for R&D and $13.2 billion for up to 24 radars, although industry sources say it can be done for much less. AMDR is slated to have a 15-dB gain over SPY-1D. Patrick Antkowiak, Northrop Grumman's vice president and general manager for advanced concepts and technologies, declines to say whether the GAO estimates are correct, but acknowledges affordability will be key. Northrop Grumman and competitors Lockheed Martin and Raytheon say the technology has advanced quickly and become more affordable. Navy officials agree.

One of the keys for AMDR success, Antkowiak says, will be scalability—the Navy can buy so much performance now and scale up easily.

Northrop officials are clear: AMDR will not only fit on Flight III Burkes; the system and equipment are engineered to fit on legacy ships as well. Many features of Flight III will phase in incrementally, a program watcher notes, beginning with the DDG-113 under construction.

The SPQ-9B X-band radar will be installed beginning with DDG-119 in fiscal 2014 while development of the planned AMDR-X radar will be delayed.

This strategy gets many of the integration and teething problems out of the way early, the source says, so construction and testing of the first Flight III ship—DDG-123 in fiscal 2016—can focus on the new AMDR's S-band components.

Huntington Ingalls Industries' Ingalls Shipbuilding unit is eyeing an LPD-17 San Antonio-class amphibious dock ship that could perform BMD with AMDR equipment, the source adds. Using LPD variants for BMD could free some of the Navy's more valuable assets for other missions.

“The ship's volume will enable the Navy to keep it on station for months without being replenished,” says Ingalls Shipbuilding President Irwin Edenzon, adding, “Can we put a lot of missiles on it? We think we can.

“We can operate these ships farther off shore,” he adds. “We can be in blue water and provide a level of coverage and another level of survivability.”

Scalability works both ways. Lockheed, which leads the team building LCS-1 USS Freedom, could leverage its Aegis experience and develop a module or set of modules that turn its LCS ships into sea-based BMD platforms.

One LCS ship, for example, could be equipped with an Aegis-like detection and targeting system module, while another could be outfitted with a “shooter” module, says Jim Sheridan, Lockheed's director of Aegis programs. “There would be some limits by the physical boundaries of the ship,” he acknowledges. But the system could be scaled to an LCS fit. An LCS BMD platform, he says, could be an affordable force multiplier.

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