X-band technology plugs a critical gap

As missiles proliferate, high-resolution imaging radar moves to the foreground

Highly prized for its target identification capabilities, high-resolution X-band imaging radar is at the forefront of missile defense systems on advanced naval vessels and on the ground in trouble spots worldwide. However, such deployments are not without controversy, as demonstrated by Russia’s chilly reaction to a U.S. plan to place an X-band radar in the Czech Republic and a phalanx of interceptor missiles in Poland.

The recent deployment of an American X-band radar system at the Nevatim Air Base in Israel’s Negev desert has been less controversial on a geopolitical level. It was situated in the region to provide early warning against missile attacks coming from the Gaza Strip, according to the U.S. European Command (EUcom), which said the system is capable of identifying and tracking objects as small as a baseball from a distance of about 3,000 miles.

It will double the range of Israel’s existing missile defense radars, according to Israeli media. The Israeli government also expects the system to augment its capability to track potential medium- and long-range missile launches from Iran and other points in the Middle East.

About 120 warfighters from EUcom set up the Raytheon-built radar, known as the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance system, or AN/Spy-2. About half of the U.S. military personnel who set up the system remain in Israeli territory. The radar is a U.S. asset and has not been handed over to the Israelis, EUcom said.

Therefore, all target identification and target discrimination data collected by the radar remains in the hands of the U.S. military, which shares the information with the Israelis on a case-by-case basis unless the country is immediately threatened by a ballistic missile launch.

In other X-band developments, Raytheon and the U.S. Navy completed initial testing of the Dual Band Radar, an active phased-array radar suite composed of the X-band AN/Spy-3 multifunction radar and the S-band Volume Search Radar. Both components radiated at high power during testing at the Navy's Engineering Test Center at Wallops Island, Va.

The system is planned for deployment on the Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 destroyer, and even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he plans to terminate the program after the first three ships are built, the Dual Band Radar would be useful on other ships, such as the Navy’s newest class of aircraft carriers — the CVN-78 — and other future surface combatants, Raytheon officials said.

The radar supports a variety of mission requirements, including ship self-defense and anti-air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and anti-surface-ship warfare. Other mission requirements are situational awareness, land attack, naval gunfire support, surface search, navigation and air traffic control. The radar's capabilities include horizon search, volume surveillance, fire-control tracking, missile guidance, and illumination for the Evolved SeaSparrow Missile and Standard Missile family.

In addition, Raytheon recently received a $27 million contract from Boeing to support the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program. That six-month bridge effort for the follow-on GMD Core Completion Contract allows for the continued evolution, maturation, test and verification of the Raytheon-built X-band radar aboard the Boeing-developed Sea-Based X-Band Radar vessel; an upgraded early warning radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and the Royal Air Force Fylingdales base in North Yorkshire, England; and the Cobra Dane Upgrade Radar at Shemya, Alaska, which supports the Ballistic Missile Defense System.

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