The radar is ready

Raytheon hits the road with a supercharged Patriot prototype

Raytheon's re-engineered Patriot radar prototype

Raytheon's re-engineered Patriot radar prototype uses two key technologies – active electronically scanned array, which changes the way the radar searches the sky; and gallium nitride circuitry, which uses energy efficiently to amplify the radar's high-power radio frequencies

Far over the horizon – safe, the enemy commander believes, from his adversary's defenses – an eight-wheeled mobile launcher fires a ballistic missile skyward on a mission of destruction.

Suddenly, as the missile nears its target, a wave of radar energy washes over the descending weapon. The launcher crew doesn’t know it, but Raytheon’s powerful new Patriot radar has locked on to the missile and is about to thwart the attack.

On the allied commander’s order, a Patriot interceptor roars out of its canister and hurtles toward the ballistic missile. Interceptor and threat warhead meet high above the Earth; with a flash, the deadly payload is destroyed.

That’s the power of the new Patriot radar – a stronger, re-engineered version of the system that has protected the United States and its allies for decades. Two years after Raytheon set out to revolutionize one of its flagship products, the company brought the first full-sized version of the radar to the 2016 Association of the United States Army Winter Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.

The point of the display was simple, said Doug Burgess, Raytheon’s program manager for Patriot Active Electronically Scanned Array radars. The company wanted to prove how far it had come in building a radar that is more powerful, more efficient and cheaper to run and maintain. In short, a radar to defeat the ever-changing threats the U.S. and its allies will face for decades to come.

"It's here and now," Burgess said. "It's not something where it needs to take 10 years to develop, and the technology is in the infant stages. It's ready now."

a pair of power-ups

The Patriot upgrade draws its power from two key technologies.

  • Active Electronically Scanned Array -- This changes the way the Patriot radar searches the sky. Instead of shining a powerful, single transmitter through many lenses, the new array uses many smaller transmitters, each with its own control. The result is a system that is not only more flexible, with an adjustable beam for many different missions, but also more reliable; it still works even if some of the transmitters do not.
  • Gallium Nitride: This is the material used to build the radar's powerful new circuits. It is a powerful semiconductor that uses energy efficiently to amplify the radar's high-power radio frequencies. Raytheon has spent more than 15 years and $200 million pioneering gallium nitride technology, and has built gallium nitride circuits for a number of products including jammers and other radars.

Eyes all around

The full-size radar is an important step on a path toward a Patriot system that can simultaneously see all 360 degrees of the battlefield.

Raytheon has designed a 360-degree radar that fits into the current configuration of the Patriot system. It includes the main array facing front and two smaller "quarter-panel" arrays facing the rear. Early testing of the design at Raytheon's radar range in New Hampshire has been successful.

What makes that design possible is gallium nitride's efficiency; with a traditional semiconductor, the same idea would require more parts and a much larger footprint. That would not only be harder to operate and maintain, but it would cost more too.

always improving

The new array is powerful, with the potential for even greater advances, but it remains true to the Patriot legacy -- and can even be integrated into any of the more than 220 already-fielded systems that are owned by 14 countries around the world.

"Those years of experience are still captured in this radar, in this system as a whole," said Theresa Avino-Manning, who led the team that produced the radar Raytheon brought to the AUSA symposium. "We've upgraded all those parts, so we could take advantage of modern technology while still living within the tried-and-true footprint and operational system of Patriot."

Last Updated: 03/05/2018