Sharp Eyes for Missile Defense

Bus-size radar rolls like a truck, sees like a hawk

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An AN/TPY-2 scans the skies at a military base in California.

An AN/TPY-2 radar can track a home run from a ball park from several hundred miles away. That’s just one of the features that have made this bus-sized radar that rolls like a truck and sees like a hawk the go-to radar for missile defense.

“Any radar can see that something is out there, but the AN/TPY-2 can tell you what you’re looking at, and more importantly, what to worry about,” said Chip Wolcott, chief engineer for the radar.

Being able to tell the difference between an object that is a threat and something that isn’t is critically important. It’s called discrimination, and it’s one of the most fundamental and dangerous challenges one will ever face when it comes to missile defense.

“There are a lot of objects associated with a ballistic missile,” said Adam Art, the chief engineer for missile defense programs at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. “You may only have a limited number of interceptor missiles, and they are extremely expensive, so you want to ensure that you are shooting at the right thing.”

AN/TPY-2 is a major component on the front lines of the ballistic missile defense system, not only for homeland defense, but for the defense of our allies.

The radar was originally designed to operate as a tactical radar in terminal mode. As a tactical system, it could detect and discriminate incoming ballistic missiles, and then guide a THAAD missile interceptor to take out the threat.

“It still serves that mission today, but it also has become more of a strategic, 24/7 asset,” said Fred Kramer, Raytheon’s AN/TPY-2 program manager. “It’s forward-deployed around the world and can provide early warning and discrimination to the larger ballistic missile defense system, and can be used to cue downrange sensors or shooters, like the Standard Missile-3.”

Since 2006, forward-based AN/TPY-2s have been standing watch around the globe. There’s one AN/TPY-2 in Japan, with a second slated to arrive in country in the near future.  There are also radars in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. And in 2013, the first terminal-mode AN/TPY-2 was deployed to the U.S. territory of Guam.

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A critical element in the Ballistic Missile Defense System, AN/TPY-2 continually searches the sky for ballistic missiles.

“These radars are in great demand around the globe,” Kramer said. “Every day, the AN/TPY-2 is helping to keep people safe from a threat that is real and growing.”

Public reports by the U.S. intelligence community estimate that more than 6,300 ballistic missiles are currently outside of U.S., Russian, Chinese and NATO control. Not only is that number expected to increase to 7,950 by 2020, but the weapons will become more dangerous as hostile nations develop more accurate missiles capable of striking targets at great distances.

Raytheon has delivered nine AN/TPY-2s to date. A nationwide network of suppliers in Maryland, Alabama and 38 other states supplies crucial parts and sub-systems for the radar.

The threat is becoming more sophisticated, which is one of the reasons Raytheon’s customer, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, continually conducts complex, realistic and challenging tests of the radar and other elements of the Ballistic Missile Defense system.

To date, the AN/TPY-2 has met every test objective. But for Raytheon employees like Wolcott, the tests aren’t what keep him searching for ways to improve the radar.

“When you think about the thousands of ballistic missiles out there and the people this radar is protecting, it just motivates you to work that much harder,” he said.

Published On: 07/16/2014
Last Updated: 12/06/2017