Short range air defense capabilities will be added to the counter-fire and counter-drone surveillance functions of the Army’s Lockheed AN/TPQ-53 counter-fire radar system.
The AN/TPQ-53 (Q-53) radar system is reaching full rate production under a new $1.6 million Army contract with Lockheed Martin. Meanwhile, Lockheed already has plans for a new generation of Q-53 radars that could include short range air defense (SHORAD) capabilities.
Lockheed Martin is not under contract to add SHORAD capability to the Q-53 radar system, but according to Herodes, the capability could be added to the system with software upgrades.
If a customer asks Lockheed Martin to add SHORAD capacity to its existing capabilities, “the Q-53 radar will have the potential to do all three functions at once, or do them independently,” explained Herodes, “Our vision for the SHORAD capability is as…a third blade in the Swiss army knife, so to speak.”
The SHORAD threat is becoming more prominent as enemy unmanned aircraft systems have started to be low-altitude threats, according to an Army press statement.
“We took all short-range air defense out of the architecture as we focused on missile defense, that’s caught up to us,” said Maj. Gen. John G. Rossi, former commanding general of the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence in 2012.
The Q-53 radar systems could become the new detection and classification mechanism for Army’s Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (CMIN), allowing it to acquire location data on the short range air threat and neutralize it accordingly.
When CMIN was first operated, it used an earlier Q-50 radar to find incoming short range air threats, explained Rossi. Once they were detected, the CMIN had non-lethal and kinetic tools to eliminate them, including a hypervelocity gun with a 155mm projectile, said Rossi.
In terms of bringing SHORAD capabilities to the newest Q-53 radar system, “the Q-53 radar from a mechanical perspective is already there,” said Herodes. “All we would be talking about is changing the function of the system from a counter target acquisition radar to a SHORAD radar.”
The current Q-53 radar system about to go into full rate production uses active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology to perform counter-fire and counter-unmanned aerial surveillance (UAS) missions, said Rick Herodes, Director of the Q-53 radar program at Lockheed.
Counter-fire missions involve detecting and locating the launch and impact points of indirect enemy fire, such as mortars, cannon-fire, and rockets, according to Army Acquisition Support Center (ASC) statements. While counter-UAS missions involve detecting and classifying small, unmanned vehicles.
“AESA architecture allows us to drive the radar development with software without making hardware changes,” said Herodes, “That allows operators to change the radar’s mission with a push of a button.”
AESA allows so much versatility because its signal beams are computer-operated, meaning the antenna does not need to be physically moved in order to vary where the signal beam is pointed. According to the Air Force, the “phase” in phased array refers to the timed cycling between incoming and outgoing signals.
The ability to have different signal cycles in different phases allows the antenna to perform multiple radar signal functions at once. Thus, operators of the Q-53 radar have the option of conducting of detecting and classifying enemy fire while simultaneously tracking and identifying UASs, according to Herodes.
The radar can be mounted on any medium tactical vehicle prime mover. A single vehicle acts as the Q-53’s platform, while a second vehicle carries an operational control shelter, backup generator, and two soldiers to support the primary operators, according to the ASC.
The whole Q-53 radar system can be set up and disassembled in less than 10 minutes and has been deployed in counter-insurgency and high-intensity combat operations, according to statements by Lockheed.
Lockheed has submitted a white paper for the Q-53 to be part of an exhibition in September, according to Herodes, and plans to participate in an industry prototype exercise with the Q-53 at the end of 2017.
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