The integration of the U.S. Navy’s new, highly-sensitive AN/SPY-6 radar system will detect incoming anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and even enemy fighter jets closing in on carrier strike groups at a much greater image fidelity and longer ranges.
Using a cutting-edge application of a high-density throughput material called Gallium Nitride, Raytheon engineers have developed a group of scalable, interconnected threat detection radar systems that are able to see objects half the size and twice as far as existing radar can. Navy weapons developers have characterized the SPY-6 family of radars as being thirty-five times more sensitive than the system it is replacing.
The longest range variant, the AN/SPY-6 (V)1, is built to detect incoming ballistic missiles arriving from beyond the horizon. The (V)1s are now being built into new Flight III DDG 51 guided-missile destroyers. The Navy is now networking its entire fleet—including amphibious ships, aircraft carriers, new frigates, and more—with the systems with various kinds of SPY-6 radars.
“There is a lot of focus on the next generation SPY-6 radar that is going on every single platform you can name in the Navy,” Capt. Jason Hall, a sensors program manager at Naval Sea Systems Command told an audience at the 2022 Surface Navy Association Symposium.
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. Discrimination provides 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.
The use of a scalable antenna, composed of 4 square foot Radar Module Assembly building blocks, has enabled developers to engineer tailored, mission-specific, SPY-6 radar applications for different platforms.
Alongside the SPY-6(V)1, Raytheon and the Navy are now integrating several additional SPY-6 variants for aircraft carriers and amphibious ships, specifically tailored to their respective mission scopes. The SPY-6(V)2, for instance, is a smaller rotating radar while the SPY-6(V)3 has three fixed radar faces. These variants will go on both Nimitz-class and Ford-class carriers. Specifically, the (V)3 has nine radar module assemblies with three fixed spaces looking out at different angles, providing 360-degrees of coverage with 120-degree panels. Finally, there is a SPY-6(V)4 which will be integrated onto existing DDG 51 IIA guided missile destroyers during a mid-life upgrade. The (V)4 has twenty-four Radar Module Assemblies, compared to the (V)1, which has thirty-seven.
“We're putting the SPY-6(V)2 and (V)3s on our carriers, Frigates and amphibious ships, so that is going to bring the same kind of game changing capability to those platforms,” Hall said.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. 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 Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.