Why The Navy's New Flight III DDG 51 Destroyers Will Rule The Seas
Think laser weapons, new engines, improved electronics, fast-upgradeable software and a much more powerful radar.
Key point: A more sensitive, discriminating radar is needed to counter emerging threats.
(Washington D.C.) The Navy has laid the keel for its first new, Flight III DDG 51 surface warfare destroyer armed with improved weapons, advanced sensors and new radar 35-times 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-upgradeable 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.
The ship, called DDG 125, will be named the USS Jack H. Lucas; it is the first of many Flight III Destroyers the Navy plans to build.
A new software and hardware enabled ship-based radar and fire control system, called Aegis Baseline 10, will drive a new technical ability for the ship to combine air-warfare and ballistic missile defense into a single system. The AN/SPY-6 radar, previously called Air and Missile Defense Radar, is engineered to simultaneously locate and discriminate multiple tracks, Scott Spence, Director for Naval Radar Systems for Integrated Defense Systems, Raytheon, told Warrior.
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.
“Having a flexible architecture allows us to adapt to new mission requirements. Identifying enemy aircraft is different than air traffic control,” Spence said.
Earlier this 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 v1, a Navy statement said.
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.
Officials with Naval Sea Systems Command have said the new radar, which previously completed a System Functional Review, is now being integrated onto the new Destroyers. 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.
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 an SPY 6, can discern threats in adverse weather and operate in congested combat circumstances to a much greater extend 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 ballistics 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 a 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. The software development is being done through what Raytheon describes as an “agile” process, meaning it is built incrementally in order to keep pace with rapid technological advances and integrate effectively with existing and future systems.
“Our Spy 6 radar is what we call combat management system agnostic. We can integrate with any system out there in the fleet. Instead of four different software baselines, we have one,” Spence said.
Spence 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.
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 6 v1 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 v2, for instance, is a smaller rotating radar and a SPY 6 v3 has three fixed radar faces on the deck houses. These variants will go on both Nimitz class and Ford-class carriers. The v3 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 v4 which will be integrated onto existing DDG 51 IIA destroyers during a mid-life upgrade. The v4 has 24 Radar Module Assemblies, compared to the v1, which has 37.
All of these 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, Spence explained.
Spence 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, developers 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 AMDR is also designed to rely heavily on software innovations, something which reduces the need for different spare parts. The Navy has finished much of the planned software builds for the AMDR system.
However, special technological adaptations will be necessary to ensure the new, larger radar system can be sufficiently cooled and powered up with enough electricity, Navy developers added.