Bands on the run

Government, industry work to modernize radars and free up spectrum

Photo of air traffic control radar

An air traffic control radar rotates as an airliner flies past. Several government agencies are consolidating surveillance radars to free up spectrum for mobile internet use.

One reason your smartphone may stop dead to buffer: Not enough bandwidth.

The airways are crowded, thanks to the explosive growth of signals from wireless sources like streaming video and the Internet of Things. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were granted $71.5 million to explore how they could free up 30 megahertz of the 1300 to 1350 mergahertz broadcast band for reallocation and auction for non-federal use. 

Raytheon can help those government agencies create more space for wireless by replacing aging surveillance radars with new technology that would help consolidate the use of spectrum. There are more than 600 radars across the continental U.S., Alaska, Canada, Hawaii and the Caribbean, functioning at the heart of air traffic control, weather forecasting and national security. 

“Our country’s ground-based surveillance system uses radar technologies that date back to the 1970s, with rotating parabolic dishes having a lot of moving parts and limitations of speed of detection," said Jack McAuley, a Raytheon program management director. "With new radar technology such as Active Electronically Scanned Arrays, we can improve detection rates, meet more mission needs and decrease operations and maintenance costs.”

As a result of the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015, the FAA, DoD, DHS and NOAA formed a cross-agency team called SENSR, for Spectrum Efficient National Surveillance Radar. The goal: Decrease the number and types of radars across the country and replace them with advanced, highly sophisticated multi-purpose radars for air traffic control, air defense and air surveillance, border and critical infrastructure protection and weather forecasting. That will free up more of the spectrum needed for wireless internet services. 

SENSR will replace legacy radars using proceeds from the auction of government-owned, low-frequency spectrum, which is valuable to the growth of commercial wireless communications.

“Not only will we be able to free up some of the spectrum, but we’ll be able to improve the accuracy and speed of these radars,” said Jim Bunnell, a Raytheon business development executive. “There are missions that our National Weather Service and military can’t conduct because they’re using aging radars that can’t get the job done.”

For the FAA, new, advanced radars could improve air traffic management, increase security and substantially lower the cost of sustainment. NOAA could benefit from more accurate, timelier weather predictions with earlier hazardous weather warnings. DHS could gain better insights to help conduct UAS and airspace security operations around suspect airborne and maritime activity. The DoD will be able to more effectively conduct homeland defense, civil support and security cooperation to secure the United States and its interests.

Bunnell also said that newer threats like low-flying unmanned aircraft systems could possibly evade older systems, and while the threats are becoming more sophisticated, the defenses have become stagnant.

“We need to be able to detect, track and take action,” he said.

The first phase of the SENSR program is currently underway. In cooperation with industry partners, it covers researching requirements and existing technologies, engineering studies, economic analysis and planning.

“Raytheon is heavily invested in the SENSR program. It is one of, if not, our group's top pursuit,” said Bob Delorge, vice president for transportation and support services with Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business. “This program is a model for public-private partnerships. No one company, big or small, can solve this challenge...Ultimately, this is a national deployment of a critical capability that will bring our radar technology into the future.”

Published On: 09/18/2017
Last Updated: 06/22/2018