Since 2014, news releases and interviews have touted Raytheon’s company-funded 360-degree radar concept for the Patriot Missile System. Is it as good as it sounds? Only MEADS has successfully developed, integrated, and system-tested 360-degree air and missile defense radars – under contract and to the specifications of three NATO nations. Let’s take a closer look.
Is performance the same on all sides of the radar? Arrays in back of the Patriot radar are 1/4 the size of the main array. So while the new radar stares in three adjacent 120-degree lanes, it doesn’t do so equally. Since the arrays are fixed, performance decreases as beams move to the edge of the array. (The MEADS radars rotate to ensure equal performance in any direction.)
What’s the best band for AMD radar? In the 21st century, threats are more stressing and continue to evolve. The three nations that developed MEADS specified greater performance because the compromise represented by Patriot’s radar is no longer adequate, nor does it allow for future performance growth. UHF provides optimum search capability. X-Band provides optimum track capability. While Patriot’s C-Band does some of both, it does neither as well. (The two-radar MEADS solution is also more difficult for an enemy to jam.)
Is it networked? Fielded AMD systems deploy as standalone batteries, but 21st century AMD leaders want to use launchers, radars, and battle managers as components. A modern system can grow or shrink depending on mission and coverage needs. All sensors contribute to a shared air picture. Patriot’s updated radar still does not provide networking. (Networked MEADS is more survivable, since failure or loss of a radar or battle manager doesn’t knock out an entire battery.)
Is it transportable? The radar is among the heaviest Patriot components. Adding two new arrays to the Patriot radar likely increases its weight. (To address deployment limitations, MEADS radars were specified to be tactically transportable, with capability for quick airlift on C-130 transport planes.)
What about computing capacity? News about the new Patriot radar has been focused on development of the bolt-on arrays, but not on the radar’s processing power. Because of the Patriot’s age and architecture, it relies on an older generation computer. Does it have the capacity and speed to add search and track for an additional 240 degrees? Does it have the ability to dynamically stitch the three array views into a single shared picture? Can it handle tracking from one array to the next? And what changes are required in the Engagement Control Station to make use of the new radar capability? (21st century MEADS was developed to handle current and future threats.)
Does GaN improve reliability and performance? Because it operates with less heat than previous technologies, GaN can significantly improve the reliability in an older radar design such as Patriot. GaN promises a dramatic reduction in cost over current power amp technology. (The newer AESA MEADS radars do not require such improvement, so an upgrade for performance reasons isn’t needed. They were designed to be the most reliable AMD radars in existence. Because they use replaceable transmit/receive modules, the MEADS radars can incorporate GaN technology when the lower cost promise is actually realized.)
How soon can it be fielded? Some reports say that the new Patriot GaN radar could be ready in 2016. This isn’t likely. The MEADS radars took 10 years to develop under contract, and there is no contract for Patriot radar modernization. In the best scenario, a new Patriot radar is five years behind MEADS in development maturity, since large system integration and test efforts remain to be conducted. No government requirements have been applied to Raytheon’s prototype. (Three nations formally approved the MEADS radar designs before they were produced.)
Bottom Line: It took 10 years to develop, integrate, and system-test the MEADS radars. Now, development risk is behind for MEADS. It has yet to be addressed for the new Patriot 360-degree radar design.