Monday, March 30, 2015

Dual Band Radar

I’ve had this post in the works for a bit and a comment by “Nick” prompted me to post it.  Thanks “Nick”!

The Navy has been developing an active array Dual Band Radar (DBR) for some time, now.  The radar operates over two distinct bands utilizing a single software suite and control interface.

AN/SPY-3 X-band – provides horizon search and detection of low altitude targets and offers illumination and data unlink/downlink for Standard and ESSM missiles.  The radar was originally intended to have three array faces.

VSR S-band (SPY-4?) – provides volume search and tracking.  The radar was originally intended to have three array faces.

The two bands can operate in multiple modes and are intended to fill the roles of separate radars for air traffic control, target illumination, tracking, surface search, and navigation, thus eliminating multiple legacy radar units.

The radar system is intended to operate with minimal operator input.  In theory, this would eliminate operate mistakes or ineffective actions due to human threat assessment and response. 

You’ll recall that the radar was intended to be installed in the Zumwalt and Ford classes.  As it happened, the S-band half of the system was removed from the design of the Zumwalt class as a cost reduction move.  Now, the Navy reports that the DBR will only be installed on the Ford and future ships of the class will receive a new, as yet unspecified radar.  Navy spokesmen have suggested that the termination of the system is based on “economics and need”.

ComNavOps has long questioned the need for a cutting edge radar system for a carrier that has no area air defense missile system and is constantly surrounded by Aegis cruisers and destroyers.  Apparently, the Navy now agrees.

I have not seen any cost figures for the DBR but given the hype the system has received from the Navy, to terminate its production must indicate that the system is very expensive.  One Navy spokesman stated that the system was on the order of $500M and that selection of an alternate system for subsequent Fords would produce savings of $180M (1).  As an aside, simple arithmetic suggests, then, that the replacement radar would cost on the order of $320M.  Hopefully, this won’t be an F-22/35 case where the cheaper replacement turns out to actually be more expensive.

The Navy has suggested that the DBR replacement radar will be a simpler, off-the-shelf system that will be fitted to multiple ship classes.  If so, this is a step in the right direction.  ComNavOps has long advocated simpler systems that meet only the class requirements and no more – in other words, no Aegis on patrol boats, to engage in a bit of hyperbole for the sake of dramatic impact.  A carrier has no need for a world class DBR so why give it one?  All that would do is add cost.  While the decision to eliminate the DBR from the Ford class is a good one, the original decision to include it is an example of very poor decision making, devoid of tactical usefulness and ignorant of cost considerations.  This is just one of many reasons why the Ford cost has escalated to $13B and additional construction and costs are being deferred to post-delivery in order to get around the Congressionally imposed cost cap.

The Ford DBR will, therefore, be a one-off radar system.  You’ll recall what happened to the Enterprise’s original radar system?  We’ll undoubtedly see the DBR removed from Ford sometime down the line.


  1. If the dbr is something similar to the sm1850 on the type 45s then it would had been better to collaborate back then

    1. Is and it isn't. VSR S-band is a fix active array.

      T45's is passive electronically scanned array.


  2. Is this AMDR? Does that mean its dead then?

    I had thought that they still planned on putting it on the Flight III 'Burkes? Or do I have my two radar systems mixed up?

    1. I'm pretty sure you're mixing up your radar systems.
      AMDR has now been relabeled AN/SPY-6 (yet even official sources, such as the 2016 Budget, still use the term AMDR) and is in 'full production'.

      The X-band component is supposedly actually running ahead of schedule and may deliver by the time the 2017 Burkes are laid down.

      Fully realized, AN/SPY-6 will actually be (at its upper end) much more powerful than DBR ever dreamed of, and probably (at its lower end) cheaper than AN/SPY-1 (since it's fully scalable).
      We may actually see the EASR being comprised of SPY-6 arrays (and a few others).

      - Ray D.

    2. Thanks! But I'm still a bit confused, if you wouldn't mind helping.


      DBR is different from AN/SPY-6 (AMDR). EASR is another name for AMDR/AN/SPY-6??

      If EASR is cheaper and more scalable, why are we doing anything with DBR?

      Do we have enough acronyms yet?

  3. One thing I've read about radars appropriate for smaller craft is that often they are on rotating platforms. Is there something cost prohibitive about taking a less expensive, capable radar, and giving it the 'four panel' treatment of an Aegis so it doesn't have the gaps a rotating one does?

    Also, I wonder with AESA type radars becoming more common, I wonder if the radar suite and the EA suite are going to merge. I further wonder if that's good.

    1. Rotation allows ( on T45 ) 2 panels to give virtually 360 view ( slight time gap at 'edges' as it rotates)

      For less WEIGHT, and hence can be much higher on the superstructure, giving a better radar horizon and warning for sea skimming missiles and the like.

      There a quite a few other advantages, one of which includes cost yes.


  4. The Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) is being competed for by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon under a $6 million study and demonstration contracts from the ONR, planned for the LHA 8. Northrop's contract was awarded in November 2013, while the Raytheon contract last June.

    Northrop's EASR concept is being developed from the Marine ground S band radar, G/ATOR, still under development, test results not totally positive.

    EASR does volume search, carrier traffic control. The DBR was more powerful and can additionally do detect-to-engage mode, fire control and periscope detection, not possible with the EASR, additional specialized radars will be required..

    Powerful radars need power, lots of it, the Raytheon AMDR S band is in full development for the Burke Flight III, ( X band, shorter range to follow) tas exemplified by having to install a 300 ton air conditioning plant to keep the radar from overheating,with four fixed arrays. (Flight IIA uses a 200 ton A/C plant), . The more power the longer range and also enables more of the limited 'dwell' time to concentrate on a return to confirm or otherwise if target of interest while having to scale back the overall volume search due to overall power budget.

    The UK QE2 class carriers uses dual band radars a Thales Signaal 1850 L band, longer range and a BAE Artisan S band medium range, rotating radars which as lighter allows them to sighted higher for better sea level line of sight. Everything is a compromise.


  5. Admiral Moore has talked about the option of eventually placing a combination of railguns and high-power defensive lasers aboard the Ford Class. USS Ford would be the first of the carriers to get these devices, assuming they become mature enough to become deployable.

    Is it possible that the Ford Class is being considered for handling more than just airwing combat operations, it is also under consideration for becoming a 21st Century Battleship -- a CVN/BB?

    Doing this kind of thing will require the capability for very precise tracking of inbound targets at close range combined with reliable acquisition and tracking of targets at great distances.

    This means you need some combination of very powerful radar types and very discriminating radar types, and you need to closely integrate them with the lasers and the railguns.

    1. It is possible that the Navy is anticipating a laser/railgun/battleship/carrier and the DBR was installed with that in mind. Of course, the logical and reasonable person would note that Star Wars type lasers and railguns are probably still decades away. An appropriate supporting radar system could be installed at that point, if and when the laser and railgun are ready. The logical and reasonable person would also note that the odds of the DBR still being a state of the art radar after a couple of decades, when the laser and railgun become available, is remote.

      Laser/railgun proponents might suggest that fully functioning units are just a year or two away (as they've been suggesting for the last several decades). Perhaps they are. I look, however, at the years we've spent trying to get functioning LCS MCM/ASuW/ASW modules with no success and no reasonable expectation of success in the foreseeable future (sorry, that should read that they're almost ready - same as last year and the year before and the year before that ...) and I compare that level of technical difficulty to implementing a Star Wars laser/railgun system and I can't help but be just a tad skeptical.

      It is obvious, though, that the large sponson at the stern of the Ford is for a future laser so your suggestion is almost certainly correct, setting aside the wisdom of that design element.

    2. The Ford-hull is incapable of holding any type of heavy battery, including the 'small-caliber battery' of the rail gun.
      Its hull is already beyond strained, much like the Nimitz-class. Its 1106' x 256' (length and beam) of ship width weighing somewhere in the ballpark of 100,000l.ts (some ~70,000 of that being out-of-water weight, which is bad), resting on only 134' waterline beam.
      The necessities of its design (as a super-carrier) results in a very imbalanced weight distribution scheme, which - as we all know - is very bad on ships (let alone warships, which compound the matter with aggressive ship handling).
      In fact, our super-carriers are getting close to KMS H-44 BB's design insanity level.

      This is before considering the deck-penetration required in order to mount the gun, mind.

      So, you can write-off any attempt to place rail-guns on the existing Ford-design as hokey nonsense, they'd have to go back to the Midway/Essex-style Attack Carrier (CVA, aka 'Gun Carrier') design in order to do that (which I honestly think would be a good thing, due to both cost savings and strategic advantages).

      Also, CNO, the laser meant to be mounted on the Ford-class is already ready and available (supposedly, at least).
      It's had peers ready for fielding since the late 1970s, the problem has always been powering them as no one was willing to use $1M worth of batteries as ammunition (mostly due to the space required for those batteries and the complications in replacing them at sea).
      The Ford however has no problem with this issue, seeing as it has ~400MW of excess power at all times.
      Small-form 'solid-state' lasers on the other hand are the newfangled things that would bring lasers to the small ships in mass.

      Honestly, the Ford, as originally designed, was not necessarily a bad idea. It's just been badly handled and came at a very bad time.

      From what I recall, the DBR was meant to give the Ford 'master control assistance' capabilities over its aircraft, much like the Essexs' Combat Air Control in WW2 was for their time.
      Essentially, God Vision for the Combat Control Center (or whatever they're calling it).
      That is to say, I've heard they wanted to be able to provide 'complete targeting and awareness assistance' to the aircraft from the ship itself, going so far as to use the aircraft as extended range missile launchers and guiding those missiles to target from the ship itself, allowing the pilot to focus on combating the enemy aircraft the old way (dog-fighting... keep in mind that the navy apparently has no faith whatsoever in the F-35C as an Air-Superiority platform, instead intending to keep the F/A-18E/F for this purpose) or getting out of dodge.
      This would naturally mandate a much higher level of radar capability, including Surface Detection, than the sub-DD level that they had been putting on CVs.
      It wasn't to slap guns on the carrier.

      Of course, we both question the logic behind that logic (for one: insisting that mid-cycle control will be possible in a contested environment), but at the least it is logic.

      - Ray D.

    3. "going so far as to use the aircraft as extended range missile launchers and guiding those missiles to target from the ship itself,"

      Doesn't that sound like a bad idea in the age of ASBM's? We know they might have targeting issues... but a radar powerful enough to guide plane launched missiles from afar seems to be lighting a giant torch saying 'HERE I AM!' and making it a bit easier to target the CVBG's.

    4. Jim,

      Well, yes and no.

      No, since you can even dupe a Shipwreck into attempting terminal guidance mode far too early that way, making themselves much easier targets; and the missiles in question launched by those planes included hypothetical ram-jet powered Long-Range Anti-Missile Missiles specifically to address this problem (and BMD while they were at it).

      Yes, because the military in general has always been fond of bizarrely risky and borderline suicidal tactics and, personally, I've always been of the opinion that 'military intelligence' was an oxymoron.

      The basic ASBM defense idea behind that concept is the fact that any AShM is weakest during its Launch and Terminal Guidance phases. Since the ships will not be in range of its launch phase, /naturally/ this means that it's better to kill the missile in its terminal phase, so one should drag that out as long as possible (by tricking the missile into thinking that the CV is much closer to it than it actually is).
      Something like 'better the enemy you know is trying to kill you and how they are trying to do it than the enemy you have no idea what they're doing', or something like that.
      Seriously, this type of thinking has been prevalent in our navy even all the way back through WW2, when we were supposedly 'smart' about things like this.
      Take WW2 and the Yamato for instance. Contrary to popular belief, the navy brass was fully aware that the Yamato had 18” guns. Even still (or rather, in spite of this fact), if they found themselves engaging a Yamato, the captains of the SoDaks and Iowas were ordered to close to ~18,500 yards and slug it out the old fashioned way.
      The off-chance that they possessed a small immune zone verses the 18”s between 18,000yds and 21,000yds, despite the fact this meant they had to pass through 20,000yds+ of the Yamato's firing range – uncontested - where they would be turned into Swiss Cheese if hit so much as once (or four times in the case of the Iowas).
      Even the British Admiralty thought we Americans were a bunch of insane, suicidal maniacs in that regard.

      Of course, I've already stated my opinion of this design intention (although, I must admit, I wouldn't be fully against it either... IF the ship attempting it did not cost $15B or we had more than $7.5B shipbuilding budget for their replacements alone.).

      - Ray D.


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