The Navy’s Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) will be the next generation radar for the Navy’s surface fleet. It is intended to address Aegis’ limitation which is the inability to simultaneously perform ballistic missile defense (BMD) and air defense. AMDR will consist of two radars, an S-band radar for BMD and air defense and an X-band for horizon search with some overlap of functionality between them. At this time, I am uncertain whether the system’s arrays will provide mid-course guidance or whether separate illuminators will be required as is the case for Aegis systems.
AMDR will be initially applied to the Burke Flt III. Unfortunately, space, power, and cooling limitations inherent to the Burke limit the size of the AMDR that can be supported to 14 feet. The Navy’s stated performance specifications require a 20 foot or larger version although the Navy claims that the 14 ft version will meet the minimum threshold requirements. Thus, the new construction Burke Flt III’s which will form the backbone of the Navy for the next 40 years or so are going to start life with a sub-standard radar suite with no margin for improvements or growth. Is that really a limitation we want to build into our newest multi-billion dollar ships?
Worse, the AMDR is going to start life without the X-band radar. Instead, an upgraded SPQ-9B rotating radar will be substituted. The full X-band radar will be developed as a separate program at a future date. Thus, in addition to being too small to meet the full Navy requirements, the AMDR will not even be the complete system. The Navy hopes to develop and incorporate the X-band radar around the 13th delivered unit or so which means the first dozen Flt III’s will have only a partial, sub-standard AMDR. The Navy, of course, hopes that even the limited version of AMDR will be an improvement over Aegis, however, that is nowhere near certain and remains to be seen.
What about cost? The March 2013 GAO weapons assessment report (1) lists the AMDR unit procurement cost as $209M. Remember, that’s for only half the system with the X-band radar being developed in a separate, future program. It’s not clear but I think that also does not include funding for development and procurement of the upgraded SPQ-9B. The unit cost also does not include new equipment such as bigger power generators and enhanced cooling equipment required by the Burke Flt III’s to support the radar. Assuming that the X-band procurement doubles the cost and factoring in upgraded power and cooling equipment, the full AMDR will cost upwards of $500M per unit. Yikes!!
It’s clear that the AMDR needs a larger ship than the Burke Flt III to support the full capability of the sensor. It also seems clear that the reason the Navy is trying to shoehorn the AMDR onto the Burke is to avoid the scrutiny that would come with designing and building a new ship class. A new class would trigger Congressional oversight and various departmental reviews, none of which the Navy wants to be subjected to. So, just like the Navy claimed the Super Hornet was a simple upgrade to the legacy Hornet despite being virtually an entirely new aircraft, they’re claiming that the Burke Flt III is a simple upgrade to the Flt IIa. Unfortunately, by trying to manipulate the system, the Navy has backed themselves into yet another corner; the Flt III can’t support the needed AMDR but the needed AMDR can’t fit on the Flt III. Can you say “Catch-22”?
The Navy did briefly consider adapting the Zumwalt to the Flt III/AMDR role but quickly abandoned that path, if indeed, it ever was a legitimate possibility. I suspect the reason the Zumwalt can’t be the AMDR platform is because the Navy has publicly stated that the Zumwalt can’t perform area air defense and to put AMDR on the Zumwalt would be a total contradiction of their official position. Again, the Navy’s manipulations of the truth have lead them into yet another corner.
Sadly, this is how a program goes from being a potentially useful system to a major problem. It is still possible to salvage this program but it would require the Navy to face reality and stop trying to manipulate the acquisition process.
(1) GAO, Defense Acquisitions, Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs,
GAO-13-13294SP, March 2013