Wednesday, June 19, 2013

AMDR - Successor to Aegis

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


  1. Another aspect of the Burke Flt 111 is that it seems a major opportunity has been missed to overcome one of it's major shortfalls, lack of range / endurance especially when operating in the Pacific due to the lack of growth in tonnage.

    They have had to upgrade the generating power by an additional 3000kw and the network to 4160V from 450V to meet the power of requirement of the new radar and AC but choose not to go electric as in the Zumwalt or hybrid electric as in the USS Makin Island commissioned in 2009 with a hybrid diesel electric + gas turbine with an installed power of 111,000hp giving a 30% reduction in fuel consumption compared to an all gas turbine. The additional flexibility in operations and the savings in the supporting tail of tankers and $ are massive. A full and detailed write up of the Makin Island unique machinery here:

  2. The cost to do a full IEP was too high. The Flt III is about the cheapest you can go and still get AMDR.

    I have to imagine AMDR-X will support terminal illumination. SPY-3 can do it. I also have to expect AMDR-S or X will do mid-course, though we may need upgraded SM-2s to support it.

    1. I would think as you that IEP cost would be too high, but the hybrid electric solution would be of a similar cost as the proposed 4 GE LM2500 gt main engines + 3 RR Allison gt/generators. I have no figures as to the current cost of the propulsion/electics of Makin Island v. Arleigh Burke but as I said the operational advantages and fuel savings of $250 million + over life of ship should be a no brainer.

    2. You'd need different MRGs with electric motors. Not sure there's room in the existing Flt IIA design for that.

    3. B.Smitty, I've read that the arrays can also provide the guidance, however, the conceptual drawings I've seen show separate illuminators so I'm unsure where the guidance will come from.

    4. The Navy seems willing to give up a lot of capabilities to avoid the oversight and scrutiny associated with a new ship class.

      The most compelling argument I've heard for going the Flt III route is simple cost. Of course, depending on the degree of modification to the Flt IIa to achieve the Flt III, that may not even be a valid argument. Flt III sounds like a new ship class in all but name. Regardless, the Flt III AMDR will be the backbone BMD/AAW of the fleet for the next 40 years. This seems like an odd place to suddenly decide to be thrifty. I can think of lots of other places to save money than the backbone of the fleet!

    5. Did the concept drawings include AMDR-X? AMDR-S with SPQ-9B will certainly require separate illuminators.

      The CONOPs I've seen is to pair Flt IIIs with a larger BMD queuing vessel, built in smaller numbers. Something based on the LPD-17 has been thrown around.

      But I agree, I think we need a new DDG design. Unfortunately we also need to continue to build ships now. A clean-sheet design could take 10 years to come into service.

    6. B.Smitty, yes, the drawings included AMDR-X. They were for the full system. I don't put too much stock in the drawings. They were clearly based on Burkes and the artist may simply have left the illuminators in, not knowing what they were. On the other hand, they may part of the system. Who knows?

      I've also seen the LPD-17 concept (like the T-AGOS-23 but based on the LPD-17 hull) but I'm not aware that it's more than a paper study, at this point. There are some obvious advantages and disadvantages to that approach. We'll have to wait and see.

      I'd prefer that the Navy doing a short run of, say, a dozen Flt III's to meet the immediate needs while designing a new class built to maximize the AMDR capabilities. That would seem to be a reasonable, common sense approach which, of course, rules it out for the Navy!

    7. With ref. to the question where are the separate illuminators for guidance of the AAM, if the SM-6 is used with an active radar seeker no illuminators will be required. Though a two way communication link necessary for guidance until the missile active seeker is in range.

      This is where the AMDR comes into its own in being able control multiple missiles launched as required dependent on the number of targets, whereas with the current semi-active system you are limited by the number of illuninators on the Arleigh Burke, a maximum of 2 missiles.

      "The SM-6, currently undergoing development and testing, is the U.S. Navy’s new extended-range air defense interceptor. It combines the airframe and propulsion system from the current SM-2 Block IV interceptor with the active radar seeker of the current Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) missile. Like the SM-2 Block IV, it operates within the atmosphere and uses a high explosive warhead. The Navy currently plans to buy 1,200 SM-6s.

      The initial deployment version of the SM-6 may not have a capability against ballistic missiles. It is to be given an anti-ballistic missile capability as part of the Sea based Terminal (SBT) Increment 1, which is expected to be deployed in 2015 in conjunction with the Aegis 5.0 CU weapons system. This is to be followed in 2018 by SBT Increment 2 in which the SM-6 will be deployed in conjunction with Aegis BMD 5.1 weapons system"