How American Ships Can Defend Themselves From Drones, Missiles, and Small Boats—All At Once

The guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) practices ship maneuvers as it transits the Pacific Ocean June 23, 2018. Picture taken June 23, 2018. U.S. Navyphoto by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jessica O. Blackwell/Handout via
March 28, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. NavyRadarAEGISDestroyerSM-3

How American Ships Can Defend Themselves From Drones, Missiles, and Small Boats—All At Once

Pew pew.

How would the U.S. Navy stop a massive, coordinated, multipronged weapons attack? Major power enemies might seek to overwhelm and destroy U.S. Navy surface ships by simultaneously launching a series of coordinated attacks -- firing surface-skimming anti-ship missiles, unleashing small boat attacks, conducting aerial drone missile strikes and launching land-fired ballistic missiles -- all at the same time.

 

Very serious concern about these kinds of scenarios, involving integrated enemy attacks, is inspiring the Navy’s current effort to fast-track new ship defenses and counterattack technologies. Much of this includes interceptor missiles, air-surface-undersea information sharing, close-in guns and even ship-fired lasers.

However, in order for Commanders to make decisions about which defenses are best suited for different kinds of attacks -- they first have to see a threat, and know it’s on the way. This is the reason why the Navy is quickly expanding applications for its emerging family of AN/SPY-6 radar systems. Not only will the longest range variant, the AN/SPY-6 (V)1, go on new Flight III DDG 51 destroyers, but the Navy is now networking its entire fleet with the systems with various kinds of SPY-6 radars…. Amphibs, Carriers, the new Frigates and more.

The new radars are much more sensitive, much longer range, and engineered to discriminate threats from one another. The current SPY-6 integration initiative, now underway at a rapid pace, is changing Navy surface warfare tactics, according to The Navy’s Above Water Sensors Program Manager, Capt. Jason Hall.

Hall said multiple track functionality, signal processing and increased sensitivity provide “the heart” of how SPY-6 radars change tactics for ocean warfare.

“We are looking at how you get after the increased capability that it (SPY-6 radar) brings, vs. the SPY-1 (current AN/SPY-1) legacy system. We have run the gamut as to what this radar can do,” Hall said in January of this year at the Surface Navy Association Symposium, Arlington, Va.

Hall further explained that the SPY-6 radar systems, combined with fire control and an advanced software-ballistic missile defense system called Aegis Baseline 10, set the technical foundation for the fleet. “We will be leveraging this combat system as we look at Frigate, amphibs and carriers,” Hall said.

Multiple-track sensing and detection is expected to bring the desired radar detection strategy, as SPY-6 radars combine air-warfare and ballistic missile defense into a single system. When it comes to application, the SPY-6 radar systems streamline otherwise disparate fire-control and detection 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. This integration is precisely the kind of defense needed to counter a multi-pronged, coordinated enemy attack potentially combining ballistic missiles with cruise missiles, drone attacks...and more.

The SPY-6 family moves beyond existing AN/SPY-1 ship-integrated radar system and, according to an interesting essay in "Microwave Journal"...”handles 30 times more targets and has 30-times greater sensitivity than the SPY-1D(V).” (“Radar and Phased Array Breakthroughs,” Eli Booker)

Digital Beam Forming, according to Navy and Raytheon developers, can make multiple-track radar applications possible. An interesting essay in a publication called "RadarTutorial" explains how “multiple independent, narrow beams steered in all directions can be formed in the digital beam forming processor. This brings improved dynamic range controlling

The essay further describes that “adaptive digital beam forming and radar signal processing functionality further improve the radar’s ability to function in adverse conditions.”

Interestingly, the Microwave Journal essay specifically cites some of Raytheon’s digital beam forming technology… stating:

"….Raytheon is developing a mixer-less system with direct RF analog-to-digital conversion that has greater than 400 MHz instantaneous bandwidth and is reconfigurable, able to switch between S- and X-Band... -- Microwave Journal, “Radar and Phased Array Breakthroughs” (Eli Booker)

Hall addressed this synergy between multiple beams as involving “S-band radar, X-band radar and a Radar Suite Controller (RSC). RSC coordinates S and X band interfaces.” S-band, according to “Radartutorial,” provides wide-area volume search, target tracking, Ballistic Missile Defense discrimination and missile tracking. X-band, the essay describes, “provides horizon search, precision tracking, missile communications and final illumination of guidance to targets.”

This multi-beam integration is what helps facilitate the simultaneous tracking of several threats at once, as it can synthesize horizon scanning and precision tracking with wide-area volume search and Ballistic Missile Defense discrimination. Discrimination is of course a vital advantage associated with increased radar sensitivity, as it can discern threat objects from other less-relevant items such as friendly platforms or flying debris.

Raytheon’s SPY-6 radar transmitter uses a material known as military-grade Gallium Nitride (GaN), a substance explained by Raytheon developers as up to 1,000-times more efficient that the existing Gallium Arsenide used today.

“GaN converts electrical power into radar, creating greater efficiency which allows us to see a smaller object,” Scott Spence, Director for Naval Radar Systems for Integrated Defense Systems, Raytheon, told Warrior in an interview.

Alongside the SPY-6 (V)1, Raytheon and the Navy are now integrating several additional SPY-6 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 (V)3 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 (V) 1, which has 37.

The use of a scalable antenna, composed of 2ft X 2ft X 2ft Radar Module Assembly building blocks, enables developers to engineer tailored, mission-specific, radar applications for different platforms.

A 2017 Pentagon Selected Acquisition Report, written earlier in the development process of the SPY-6 radar, explains that each RMA is comprised of four Line Replaceable Units (LRU). “Each LRU can be replaced in less than 6 minutes.The back-end radar controller is fully programmable and uses commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) 86 processors, which allows adapting to future threats, easy upgrades with future COTS processors and no obsolescence.” (Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) As of FY 2017 President's Budget Selected Acquisition Report (SAR).

COTs processing equipment refresh “upgrades will be implemented using a ‘refresh by attrition’ approach… software updates,” the SAR Report states.

“We moved to a modular maintenance concept so that is a real big change. We are able to break down the elements themselves into modular structures …. then you can adjust form factor to whatever size you want,” Hall explained.

What all of this amounts to is … more time and options for Commanders tasked with ship defense. For instance, an approaching ballistic missile might likely require a longer-range SM-3 interceptor missile….a sea-skimming cruise missile might require an Evolved Sea Sparrow Block II interceptor …..and approaching enemy aircraft, helicopter or drone might require an SM-6, deck-mounted guns or even laser weapons...and fast-approaching small boats might require the Close-In-Weapons system -- all of which comprise different elements of a ship’s layered defenses. Advanced automation, and even human-controlled AI-enabled processing, sensors and networked fire control might quickly allow Navy ships to employ many of these to operate simultaneously in response to multiple tracks detected by SPY-6 radar.

The radar is built in a 30,000 square foot automated facility in Andover, Mass; Raytheon leads an industry team of more than 125 suppliers that build SPY-6. Virtual Tour HERE

Finally, it goes without saying that increased networking, computing speeds and signal processing require extensive “hardening” of networks, a reason why Hall stressed that the Navy is working closely with industry on cybersecurity.

Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics& Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

His article first appeared in Warrior Maven on March 26.

Image: The guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) practices ship maneuvers as it transits the Pacific Ocean June 23, 2018. Picture taken June 23, 2018. U.S. Navyphoto by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jessica O. Blackwell/Handout via REUTERS ​