SPY-7 Radar Advances U.S. Allies Ability to Detect and Destroy Missile Threats

Warrior Maven

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington D.C.) Japanese, Spanish and Canadian warships are evolving their maritime missile defense posture to expand the envelope at which it can detect and destroy incoming missiles, hypersonic weapons and even intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). To accomplish this, their warships are integrating a new high-powered, more sensitive ship-based radar system engineered to achieve longer ranges and greater precision. The concept is, among other things, to empower Navy ships with an ability to track and destroy enemy ICBMs from the ocean.

As members of the U.S. Navy led Aegis Weapons System network of allied warships, both Japan and Canada are building upon existing ocean-based Aegis ballistic missile defense systems to expand intercept reach ever farther into space than is currently possible.

The well-known Aegis radar, now in use by a growing number of U.S. allied navies, involves an interesting mixture of advanced software, fire control, networking systems and of course radar detection technology. There are a number of Aegis-integrated Navies, including the Spanish Navy, Royal Norwegian Navy, Canada, Republic of Korea Navy and Royal Australian Navy, among others.

Building upon Aegis progress, Lockheed Martin has been working on integrating a new SPY-7 ship based radar variant engineered to greatly increase range, sensitivity and detection capability beyond existing systems. It is a maritime variant of the evolving Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) missile defense system being prepared for operational readiness later this year.

“The radar is scalable. Using this technology, we can offer land and sea based variants,” Chandra Marshall, Radar and Sensor Systems, Vice President, Lockheed Martin, told Warrior in an interview.

The SPY-7 builds upon existing Aegis Radar software, using as many as three million lines of code from Aegis to inform its construction. Built with scalable radar building blocks, described by Marshall as “sub array suites,” the SPY-7 system can be tailored to fit particular mission requirements and operate with less hardware than a larger LRDR.

“The sub array suites are scalable, so you can scale your power and pick your requirements from a sensitivity perspective. You won’t need the size of what the LRDR is,” Marshall said.

SPY-7 is an interesting element of a growing U.S. and allied effort to better network missile defense nodes. This is done by establishing a “continuous track” of fast-moving threats, expanding defensive angles and adding new opportunities to intercept missile threats traveling beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Adding more radar points of approach can supplement and ideally coordinate with ground-based radar systems to avoid blind patches, rough spots or delays occurring when an ICBM travels from one segmented radar aperture to another. In these circumstances, a radar track may need to be reacquired, whereas with ocean-based radar nodes able to track exoatmospheric threats, there is a greater likelihood that a fast-moving enemy missile can be more successfully tracked and intercepted. This is of particular relevance, developers explain, when it comes to hypersonic missiles.

The kind of long-range scalable sensitivity of SPY-7, as a variant of the LRDR, is intended to potentially enable surface ships with technical capabilities said to be resident in the LRDR itself. A Missile Defense Agency essay explains the LRDR technology as able to “provide an unparalleled ability to simultaneously search, track and discriminate multiple small, baseball-sized objects, including all classes of ballistic and hypersonic missiles, at very long ranges.”

Japan is already part of the U.S. and allied Aegis integration network. Earlier this year, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency awarded a Foreign Military Sales deal modification to Lockheed for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces to integrate and improve Aegis radar systems. The MDA deal “extends performance of Aegis FMS Baseline J7.B development and radar production, integration, test planning support and includes assessment of alternatives studies,” according to a Pentagon statement.

While some U.S. Navy ships are now integrating an advanced Aegis software iteration called Baseline 10, all applications of the software on U.S. and allied vessels are engineered to be compatible with one another to enable information sharing. This includes FMS-specific Aegis systems, as sharing threat data would be the point of expanding radar detection across vast allied areas. The interoperability is grounded upon the technical premise that commonly-configured software can, through upgrades, adjust to new threat specifics yet retain a backward compatibility with other similarly engineered Aegis Weapons Systems applications.

The military wants lasers that travel from warships into space, new interceptor missiles able to knock out enemy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) beyond the earth’s atmosphere and an entirely new generation of ship-integrated radar. All of these are all fast-informing ongoing Navy and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) work to expand the defensive capabilities of ships at sea.

Adding an ocean component to ICBMs defense, as a way to build upon the existing successful deployment of Aegis-radar enabled Navy Cruisers and Destroyers, can complement existing expansions in the realm of maritime missile defense.

The MDA is now working on “power-scaling” of laser technologies, with a mind to engineering the needed form factors and levels of on-board expeditionary electrical power and cooling to explore the possibility of taking promising ship-fired laser technology further into a missile defense arena. Lasers are already arming ships across the Navy, and fast-technological progress is bringing new tactical options to maritime warfare such as low-cost, scalable precision attack.

Alongside the promise of lasers, the Navy and MDA are also making great progress when it comes to destroying ICBMs with a new larger, longer-range and more precise variant of the SM-3 missile, the SM-3 IIA. The SM-3IIA is already showing an ability to take out ICBMs and expand the defensive scope of ship based ballistic missile defense beyond air and cruise missile defense and endoatmospheric ballistic missile defense to destroy targets beyond the earth’s atmosphere to a greater degree.

This circumstance greatly reshapes the strategic and tactical landscape regarding missile defense and it adds a maritime layer to ICBM defense which has primarily consisted of land-fired weapons such as Ground Based Interceptors. With newer missile defenses at sea, ships can offer new nodes or points of attack within a broader web of defenses to bring new vectors, angles or opportunities to destroy enemy weapons in space. Certainly, an ICBM spends much of its Midcourse flight through space above the ocean, therefore having expanded ship-integrated defensive technologies offers new windows for defense, perhaps enabling more than one attempted intercept.

New ship-integrated missile defense radar, engineered to build upon existing Aegis radar system, is intended to leverage promising technology from the Missile Defense Agencies evolving Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) expected to be operational later this year. Once the next several phases of testing are complete, the MDA will declare its new highly sensitive ICBM and hypersonic missile detecting radar operational. The LRDR is intended to help “steer” or guide Ground Based Interceptors to ICBMs by properly discriminating targets in space. As part of its technical scope, part of which incorporates the use of gallium nitride to increase radar power density and throughput, Lockheed is building a scalable maritime variant of the LRDR called SPY-7. The SPY-7 is a ship-based maritime radar now being integrated into Canadian, Spanish and Japanese warships.

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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