Novel Vision for Patriot
Electronically scanned radar, 360 view and a ramped-up range boost legendary defense system
The view from the hill at Raytheon’s radar-testing field in Pelham, New Hampshire, is impressive, with a New England sky and rolling forests that seem to stretch forever.
But the vistas are even better for the olive-green machine that stares skyward from atop that hill. It is the first iteration of a missile defense radar with active electronically scanned array technology -- an upgrade that allows better focusing of the beam, wider peripheral vision and less maintenance downtime. New panels mounted on the back will enable a 360-degree view.
The improvements aim to keep Patriot far ahead of 21st-century airborne threats such as growing arsenals of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and unmanned air vehicles, or UAVs.
“You’ve got a lot of bad guys out there making lots of missiles and UAVs, and you need stuff that can counteract those,” said Norm Cantin, who led the upgrade effort. “We call it overmatching … you always have to stay ahead of the bad guys."
The radar improves upon the older "space-fed" system, in which a single transmitter generates a large amount of power and pushes it through a transmitting array. The array then acts like a lens and focuses the energy into the battlefield. The AESA radar, by contrast, has multiple, individually powered transmitters behind each element of the radar -- a design that allows better control of the beam and helps the radar track multiple targets simultaneously.
Another key component of the upgrade is gallium nitride, a semiconductor substance that amplifies high-powered radio frequency signals at microwave frequencies. Gallium nitride, commonly called GaN, enables Raytheon to outfit systems with smaller antennas, providing flexibility, greater transportability and lower operations and maintenance costs.
Improving the radar will buy warfighters valuable time to react to threats, and will allow them to take full advantage of modern missile interceptors and their increased range.
“You want the radar to look far enough so that missile can get there and intercept a target farther out,” Cantin said. “It’ll help improve the defended area.”
More than 20 Raytheon employees put in long hours and weekends to develop the radar.
“It’s all about the warfighter and being able to get them a system that is as good as we can get it,” said Sarah Kenney, who along with Vincent Delgaudio helped lead Raytheon’s demonstrations to the military.
Kenney knows some of Patriot’s customers personally, even spending a year in the United Arab Emirates as U.S. soldiers trained local military to use the system. UAE is among 13 countries that rely on Patriot for air and missile defense.
“Getting to see the hardware – not just in a factory setting, getting to see what it does when it’s deployed – it gives you a real appreciation for the system,” Kenney said. “It really does save lives.”
Developing the new radar required long overnight hours for some members of the team. They could work only when the system was turned on, and they found it most efficient to keep Patriot powered up rather than rebooting every morning.
That meant making sacrifices – one engineer even gave up time at home with a newborn – but it was worth it, said Kevin O’Donnell, whose team designed the array and made sure its new parts worked together.
“We had some new technology in this array, and some of the things that hadn’t been done before,” O’Donnell said. “There’s a sense of pride there, being able to say you did that.”