What Makes the U.S. Navy’s Powerful SPY-6 Radar Matters

December 14, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Amercias Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. NavyAnti-Ship MissileShip DefenseMissile DefenseAN/SPY-6

What Makes the U.S. Navy’s Powerful SPY-6 Radar Matters

The radar comes with different blocks so the size can be adjusted for each different class of warship.

Attacking enemy cruise missiles, fighter jets, helicopters and ballistic missiles all present substantial threats to Navy surface ships, especially when multiple attacks happen at the same time. By and large, defending against incoming ballistic missiles and incoming air and cruise missiles required separate defensive systems—until now. 

A new family of SPY-6 radar systems are now being quickly expanded by the U.S. Navy to incorporate a much wider swath of the fleet. The strongest, longest-range and most sensitive variant of the SPY-6, the v1, has been built into the Navy’s first of its-kind DDG 51 Flight III next-generation destroyer. That warship is the future USS Jack H. Lucas and, according to a report from Naval Sea Systems Command, two of four Air and Missile Defense Radars (AMDR) arrays have now been installed in the deckhouse of the Jack H. Lucas. (Note that the AMDR’s are the same radar as the AN/SPY-6).

“Concurrent to these efforts the Navy also recently accepted and installed a new AMDR array for land-based testing of the Flight III combat system,” the Navy report said.  

Differently scaled variants of the new radar are now being integrated across the Navy fleet, and are tailored to the specific mission scope of a particular platform. Spence explained that the AN/SPY-6 is the first truly scalable radar, built with radar building blocks—Radar Modular Assemblies (RMA)—that can be grouped to form any size radar aperture, either smaller or larger than currently fielded radars. RMAs, 2ft X 2ft X 2ft blocks, can be configured for different ships and tailored for a particular mission scope, enabling different SPY-6 variants to perform high-value air defenses across the Navy fleet. Carriers and amphibious assault ships, for example, need different kinds of air surveillance and defense when compared with destroyers, which need the most capable air and missile defense radar systems.

The concept is to avoid a need to build a new radar system but instead enhance and adjust to the support system that already exists on the SPY-6.

The SPY-6 family of radars is being engineered to be easily repairable with replaceable parts, fewer circuit boards and cheaper components than previous radars. The AMDR is designed to rely heavily on software innovations, something which reduces the need for different spare parts. The Navy has finished one of four planned software builds for the AMDR system.

“Much of the SPY-6 system’s technologies, 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,” according to Raytheon officials.

This scalability is of particular relevance when it comes to achieving the requisite power, heat and cooling balance needed to build SPY-6 AMDR systems into newer Flight III DDG 51 destroyers, platforms specifically engineered to generate more on-board power. 

Earlier in the development of AMDR for Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, former DDG 51 Program Manager Capt. Mark Vandroff, told The National Interest about the technical adjustments needed to build and operate new levels of electrical power, voltage and cooling technologies. Vandroff said the Navy was working with industry to build what’s called power conditioning modules to turn the ship’s on-board electrical power into 1000-volt DC power for the SPY-6 radar. 

In an interesting essay in 2016, when Vandroff was the program manager, he elaborated upon the technical methods of leveraging and integrating much greater levels of electrical power to accommodate a new generation of radar capability with the SPY-6.

Speaking in a 2016 report from the Center for International and Maritime Security, Vandroff explained: “So when we up the power out of our generators to four megawatts we run into our first physics challenge. When we up the power we have to do one of two things, either increase the voltage or increase the current. At a certain level of current, it becomes difficult and at times unsafe to run a certain amount of current through the kind of wiring we would put on a ship. With what we currently have, if we had to up the power anymore we would be hitting those limits. So we have to up the voltage, which is easily done. We’ve got 4160 volt power on aircraft carriers, on DDG-1000, so we had to implement that for Flight III. There’s a separate 4160 bus for powering the radar, and then we stepped down with transformers for our 450 loads that exist.” 

The AMDR also needed to be equipped with specially configured cooling technology, a circumstance which required the construction of a new 300-ton AC cooling plant to replace the existing 200-ton AC plant, Vandroff told The National Interest a few years ago.

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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. 

Image: Reuters.