Military Embedded Systems

Ship-based modular radars have potential applications for uncrewed systems, says Navy official


April 03, 2023

Dan Taylor

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Ship-based modular radars have potential applications for uncrewed systems, says Navy official
Photo: Dan Taylor, MES

SEA-AIR-SPACE 2023--NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. The U.S. Navy is exploring how ship-based radar systems can be further shrunk to accommodate uncrewed systems, and a modular approach is helping them to do that, a Navy official said at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space exhibition on Monday.

Capt. Jason Hall, program manager for above-water sensors at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), touted the modular aspects of radars under development -- such as the SPY-6 radar -- that are being installed aboard ships, as well as the service's efforts to reduce the size, weight, power, and cooling (SWaP-C) requirements of the systems. When asked whether the Navy was exploring further reducing SWaP-C requirements on the radars, Hall said the service was exploring this possibility as a way to provide more capability to uncrewed systems.

"We're actively involved in what does an unmanned system, or a minimally manned system, maybe look like that has to deal with smaller components," he said, noting that the new radars being installed on ships are assembled with "blocks" that could be increased or reduced depending on the capability needed. "So you can see with the blocks, you can easily put together one, two, three, four -- it just depends on the sensitivity that you're looking for, what your capability is, and that's what we're looking at."

As far as the current ship-based radars, the Navy is continuing to move away from hardware-based systems to modular systems that can be more easily updated and improved: "The legacy standard ... had a lot of the hard components, major power supplies, major tubes," Hall said. "Now we're able to get higher radar performance and efficiency within the same SWaP-C. We're able to do a one-for-one replacement."

Capt. Hall pointed to the Navy's current efforts to replace legacy AN/SPS-48 and AN/SPS-49 radars on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) with the SPY-6 radar, saying that this is being accomplished "without having to do any major muscle work to the ship." 

Additionally, the newer radars have better performance in a high-clutter environment and are ideally suited to the maritime environment, he said, adding that the radars have greater multitasking ability due to increased computational resources.

He credited advancements in processors in recent years with fueling a rise in those capabilities. "A lot of the work you've seen in the last few years with the way we're doing processors, we've built that into the SPY-6 so we can leverage ... the backend processing that's there to get more computational capability," he said. "[We also built it] to look for opportunities to technology-refresh those components. As you get more cloud space, as you get higher processors. I can come into some cabinets and upgrade them with that higher processor."

Another advantage of installing the same modular radars aboard multiple classes of ships is that it makes training sailors much more efficient, Hall contended. "We're spreading this across every single platform in the fleet, so I can train the same sailor that might go to a frigate but could also go to an L-ship or a carrier or a DDG," he said. "So those same sailors can go among the different platforms, know the same training, the same architecture, the same maintenance, and operate in that same environment."

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