MDA leaders work on new sensor for THAAD

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system proved that it could shoot a ballistic missile out of the sky during tests this spring, but the next generation ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems will take it one step further. New radar technologies and sensor algorithms are being developed that allow weapons systems to not just detect a threat, but know what the exact threat is.

“We are investing in radars and developing advanced electro-optical sensors to achieve a diverse sensor architecture that eventually will provide highly accurate midcourse tracking and discrimination,” said Vice Adm. Jim Syring, former Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) during a hearing for the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces earlier this summer.

One component of this missile defense upgrade initiative is continued development of the Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) is, according to Vice Adm. Syring. The LRDR would combine the next generation threat distinguishing sensor algorithms with use of Lockheed Martin’s advanced S-band, Gallium-nitride radar technology.

Gallium-nitride (GaN) acts as a semiconductor material that is capable of transmitting higher voltages than traditional ones, said a Raytheon spokesperson. It uses less power and produces less byproduct thermal energy, and as a result is more efficient.

The other component, electro-optical sensors, typically operate using multiple light sources, according to Lumidigm, Inc, an industry developer of sensor technology. The sensor system’s software controls the light sources and light detection technology. By directing different light waveforms at different angles at an object and analyzing the light waves that are reflected back, the electro-optical sensors can identify characteristics of the detected object, stated the report.

The MDA is particularly focused on designing sensor algorithms that can distinguish lethal threats from non-lethal threats, according to Vice Adm. Syring. The first advanced threat discriminating algorithms are being planned for the AN/TY-2, the Sea-Based X-band (SBX) and the Upgraded Early Warning radars, according to MDA budgetary statements.

The AN/TY-2 radar system helps guide the THAAD system to eliminate hostile ballistic missiles. According to Raytheon, the AN/TY-2 operates on the X-band frequency spectrum, also known as the microwave band, which has shorter wavelengths in order to produce higher resolution input data. It can be deployed to detect missile threats close to the frontlines during the initial launch phase or deployed more remotely to detect missiles during their arch of descent, reports Raytheon.

The SBX system is mounted on a semisubmersible oil production platform, with the radar unit housed in a dome on top. According to MDA, the SBX radar system can simultaneously perform cued search, precision tracking, object discrimination, and missile kill assessment functions.

The Upgraded Early Warning radar system is designed to detect ballistic missile threats outside of the earth’s atmosphere. All of these systems are candidates for updated threat discrimination software, which would increase efficiency and enhance the function of the THAAD system, reported the MDA.

The MDA has requested over $200 million in the next budget in order to deliver advanced distinguishing algorithms to these systems, stressing the importance of fielding “cost-effective solutions to enhance BMDS sensors and discrimination for homeland and regional defenses,” as Vice Adm. Syring stated to Congress.

About the Author

Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems

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